Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mary, How Did You Do It?

It's Christmas time - my very favorite time of the year. It's the time when my home is decorated to be festive and joyful, and Christmas cards from loved ones take over my fireplace mantel. It's the time when the white lights of my 12-foot tree sparkle every night as my husband and I snuggle under a blanket to keep warm. It's the time when hot cider waits on the stove and fills my home with a delicious aroma, and our guest room is filled with gifts and wrapping paper as we prepare to shower our loved ones with generous affection. It's the time of parties, family gatherings, and memory-making. And it's the time when both my home car stereo has nothing on except Christmas music!

I was driving in my car the other day listening to Christmas songs on the radio when I heard a cute little song they play all time called "Mary, Did You Know." It's a sweet song with thought-provoking lyrics that asks things like "Mary, did you know that your baby boy would someday walk on water? And did you know that when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God? And did you know that the child you delivered would soon deliver you?" But I find myself getting slightly bothered every time I hear it. Mostly because I want to answer the question. I want to yell out into the radio speakers in hopes that the singer hears me say, "YES! Yes, of course she knew! She knew it ALL... and the fact that she had never had sex when she became pregnant probably gave her a really big clue! And the fact that an angel appeared and told her what the deal was, likely filled her in too. So YES, she knew!"

I'm sure I'm the only person on the planet who thinks those sarcastic things when I hear that sweet Christmas tune, but try not to judge me. I do understand the sentiment of the song. And I do appreciate the thought it provokes. But I can't help but think of a more realistic question when I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. As a mother myself, my heart connects with Mary as I try to fathom what she went through being the mother of the Messiah. And as a woman, her situation resonates with me as I wonder how she did it. So the question I would have for Mary is not "did you know," but more importantly, "how did you do it?"

I can't imagine having a child who's under my authority, but has authority over the universe. I mean, what would it have been like to raise a child who could command the weather? How do you teach him to memorize the scriptures when he was the one who wrote them? How do you even relate to him as a mother knowing that he has the power to forgive your sin? And do you feel like you have special privilege in his life? For example, when you're facing an impossible situation, do you ask him to supernaturally change it for you, knowing that he could? We know Mary did this at least once because it's recorded for us in Matthew's gospel in the story of his first public miracle at the wedding feast. Mary was at the wedding and the hosts had run out of wine (which was an embarrassment to them), so she asks her son, Jesus, to do something supernatural and provide more wine. He of course does that time as he turned the water into wine, but wouldn't it have been easy for her to do that kind of thing all the time? Wouldn't you if Jesus was your son? I can see myself now: my car doesn't start - I go get Jesus; I have a migraine - I go get Jesus. I can't imagine what it would have been like for Mary to be the mother of a son who was supernaturally powerful. How did she do it? How did she act as an authority in his life while submitting to his ultimate authority over all life? Nobody else in history has ever had that unique role that Mary did.

I also can't imagine what it was like for her to watch him die. Putting the fact that he's Jesus aside, I can't imagine what it would be like for ANY mother to watch her son be brutally beaten and executed. Mary, however, had to watch her son be tortured and killed for a crime he did not commit, and knowing that he had the power to get down off the cross at any time he wanted to. Can you imagine? Having to listen to your boy - the one you gave birth to - crying out in pain as they whipped him with leather and metal, stripping his skin off his body like a torn rag? She looked on in what had to be absolute torture as her innocent son was mocked, ridiculed, and punished for something he didn't do. I just don't think I could have done it. And I think the worst part of it had to be that she was watching him die to atone for the sins of the world - including HER OWN. That's the part that I just cannot fathom as a mother. She knew he had to bear the weight of God's wrath and take the sins of the world upon himself as he paid the price for them. All sin - including hers. She had to realize the fact that she (in her humanity) was part of the reason he was up there on that cross. Her sin, along with the rest of the world's, was what put him there. He had to suffer so she could receive ultimate forgiveness and spend eternity with him.

I can't help but think it's a lot easier for us to accept that he died for us than it was for his own mother. For us, he's our Savior. We only know him as God. For Mary, he was her son. She knew him as God AND her little boy. I can't imagine how difficult it was for her to watch her boy die for her sins, knowing that she needed a Savior too. Put yourself in her shoes. If you're a mother, imagine that your child had to be tortured and executed in order for you to be forgiven and spend eternity in heaven. Crazy, isn't it? To me, it's unfathomable. But that's what Mary went through.

So when I see Mary in heaven, I think I will ask her how she did it. I can't wait to hear her recant the story in her own words, from one mother's heart to another. And then I will thank her for being willing and making herself available to God's unique plan so that we all can experience the forgiveness of a Savior. And in the meantime, I will allow Mary's experience to inspire me this Christmas to submit to and be available to God's unique plan for MY life - no matter how difficult the road seems or how little I understand. In the end, her experience ended with unmatchable glory, and she would say it was all very much worth the pain. When our difficult experiences bring glory to God, they are also worth the pain. Let's keep Mary's perspective all year long - not just when we celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Little Perspective

Perspective. The dictionary defines it as "a mental image". It's the way you see things - your reality - your view on life. While truth is absolute, and reality isn't relative, perspective definitely changes. Mine has changed a lot in the last week. Whenever I start to see my situation a certain way and develop thoughts and feelings about my state of being, God has a way of opening my mind and showing me a slideshow of life outside my little world. He changes my perspective for me. It's His way of saying, "You may see it this way, but I see it that way." And when God gives me a new perspective, it's usually because He wants me to stop seeing things the way I see them and start seeing things the way He sees them.

For the past two months, my husband and I have been dealing with a season of unemployment. It's the second time in the last year that the economy has taken its toll on my family's livelihood and caused my husband to be laid off. Both times he was out of work for several months while he scrambled to find any and every job he could apply for and watched our bank account dwindle down to nothing. We barely had time to get back on our feet financially when it struck us again - like lightening out of the blue. While we have confidence in a God whose hand has always provided for us and who promises to meet our every need, I can't help but wonder... worry... fear. I'm bothered my the uncertainty. How much longer can we go without income? I'm shaken by the possibilities. Will we lose our home? I'm painfully aware that my life as I know it is changing by the day, and I don't know when or if it will ever return to "normal". Most of the time I am able to remain cheerful and hopeful, but there are times when the fear hits me and I cry. There are times when the sorrow hits me and I sulk. Sometimes I just wonder how much longer I'm going to have to endure all of this.

Then about a week ago, God got tired of the condition of my heart and my skewed view of reality, and He began to open my eyes. In similar fashion to Scrooge's encounters with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, He began to show me all the things I was neglecting to see. It started at the mall. After letting my kids play at the indoor playland and satisfying my latte craving, I strolled out to my car, put my beautiful healthy toddler in his carseat, and secured my stroller in the trunk of my SUV. As I got into the front seat, I saw another mother in front of me. My heart immdeiately sank. She had to park her large handicapped-accessable van in the far corners of the parking lot where there were no other cars so she could have plenty of room to extend her metal ramp and unload her son's wheelchair. She slowly lowered the chair out of the van, which held her son who looked to be about the age of my 8 year-old. Mine was happily strapped in my backseat playing his handheld video game. Hers was strapped into a chair, unable to move or speak. By the time she unloaded her son's chair, replaced the heavy ramp back in the van, and got her extensive bag of equipment secured on her shoulder, it took her at least 15 minutes just to start heading towards the mall. I sat there and watched the entire process. "Wow," I thought. She has to go through all that just to go the mall. She has to go through that any time she goes anywhere. I looked back at my two boys - perfect and vibrantly smiling - and I silently thanked God in that parking lot for the incredible blessing of healthy children.

Today I sat with a friend who has cancer - again. She was diagnosed and treated for cervical cancer two years ago and thought she was in the clear. Then she got the dreaded news - the cancer was back and it had spread to her femer bone. As she faces the reality of surgery, more radiation, more chemo, more hair loss, and more sickness, I listened to her tell me how thankful she was for her redeemed life in Jesus Christ. She talked about her troubled past and where she had come from. She talked about how Christ rescued her from danger and dispair. She told me she wanted to shout from the rooftops that Jesus has saved and changed her life. She was so optimistic about her treatment plan and so thankful that the new tumor was only in her leg and not spread throughout her body. She was thankful about the stage of her cancerous tumor. "Wow," I thought. That's impressive. As I prayed for her in her living room, my heart began to overflow with emotion. I am healthy. I don't have cancer. My children are healthy. They can walk and run and play and shout with joy. My life is pretty easy. I come and go as I please with no trouble and virtually nothing to worry about. Suddenly my problems seemed very small. So I don't know where my next paycheck will come from. So what.
Thank you God for putting things into perspective for me. Forgive me for being so wrapped up in myself that I couldn't look away from my self-centered tunnel vision long enough to realize how incredibly blessed I am and how wonderful my life really is. Teach me like Paul to be "content in all things," never giving thought to what I don't have. Help me to "give thanks in all circumstances" like Your word tells me, realizing how much I have to be thankful for. Thank you for perspective.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

10 Things I've Learned in 10 Years of Marriage

Every Sunday night, Luke and I have what we call a “Spiritual date night.” We set aside about an hour to get together for a time of Spiritual intimacy. We do different things like do a devotion together, talk about what we’ve studied in God’s word all week, listen to one of our favorite pastors, partake in communion, etc. Tonight we went down a slightly different path and did a fun little exercise that we could share with others. We got inspired by Seattle pastor, Mark Driscoll, who in celebration of his 18 year wedding anniversary posted on his facebook page “18 Things We’ve Learned in 18 Years of Marriage”. He and his wife each came up with 18 things they’ve learned about marriage in their 18 years together. So Luke and I thought it would be fun to come up with our own list. We just celebrated 10 years of marriage this summer, so we each came up with 10 things we’ve learned in 10 years of marriage.

Mandi's List:

1. Don’t let more than a day or two go by without coming together for physical intimacy. Satan loves to turn physical separation into emotional and spiritual separation… and besides, sex cures a multitude of problems!
2. Male brains are very different than female brains. Don’t expect him to see the things you see, think the way you think, or even fully understand your feelings after you’ve explained them to him.
3. When you say “I do” at the alter, you don’t just sign up to be a wife – you are also signing up to be mental health counselor. Embrace that role, don’t resent it.
4. Men thrive on admiration. Be his biggest cheerleader, not his biggest critic.
5. He loves it when you watch football with him, but not when you talk football with him. He appreciates that you can enjoy the game, but he still wants you to be a girl.
6. Being the “woman behind the man” is not demeaning, demoralizing, or suppressing. It’s an honor to be the steward of his vision, so help him to shine and let him get the glory. It will make you feel more valuable than any of your own accomplishments.
7. Make your home a sanctuary – a tidy, organized, comfortable place filled with love - to come home to after the world beats him up. He will always love to come home.
8. Forgive, forgive, and forgive some more, And when you think you can’t possibly forgive another thing – forgive again.
9. Let him know you meant it when you said “until death do us part”. Don’t threaten to walk out at any sign of trouble. Forever means forever, so be loyal and faithful, enduring the tough times together. Don’t let them tear you apart, let them bond you together and make you stronger. If you don’t have struggles, you aren’t close enough.
10. Keep your love life adventurous. Don’t let it get mundane or routine. Try new things, surprise him, and don’t be afraid to add a little element of “risk”. Remember that men are visual creatures, and they thrive on adventure, so appeal to his senses – smell, taste, touch, sight. You are God’s provision for him in this area, and you and God both expect complete fidelity. So make it worth it.

Luke's List:

1. You are the Spiritual head of your home - Your wife is the "artistic director". Learn what a duvet cover, a valence, and a throw pillow are, and be prepared to buy them.
2. Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, and IKEA are your friends.
3. Strong decision-making skills are a turn on to her.
4. Your wife is a better cook than your mother.
5. "Guys night out" will never beat "couple's night in"!
6. Satan is your enemy - your wife is not. She is there to sanctify you, protect you, and help you - let her.
7. Be the man God called you to be. She deserves better than mediocrity, complacency, and half-hearted efforts.
8. Pray early - pray often.
9. The Bible is an aphrodesiac to her. Learn it, live it, love it.
10. The husband wears the pants in the family, but the wife tells him which pants to wear.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Living Water

Luke and I have been talking a lot about water lately. I think the conversation started when we first went to Nashville after the worst flood to ever hit that region devastated so much of that city. We went there to help the people who had lost everything and tangibly show the love of Christ to strangers who we considered to be neighbors. We showed up just days after the waters receeded and were in absolute awe of what we saw. It was shocking. Entire neighborhoods had been submerged under a sea of muddy river water, raw sewage, and toxic sludge. Piles of debris stood taller than the homes. People were dragging their ruined treasured posessions out of their homes and piling them into giant "trash" heaps on the sides of the roads. Appliances, toilets, couches, mattresses, photo albums, toys, dishes, carpet, and drywall littered the streets as people gutted their homes to try to salvage the shell and foundation of a home they may someday be able to rebuild. It was a warzone. Unlike anything I had ever seen. Luke and I were speechless as we drove through the town just gazing on the destruction. "Oh my gosh," was all we could say - over and over again. Then silence. Then, "Oh my gosh."

That was when our conversation began. We were amazed at the power of the water. Water had done all of that damage. A powerful rush of water flowed through that city, submerging homes, piling cars into stacks ten high, overturning sheds and trailors, uprooting trees, and destroying everything in its path. That force of water made everything in its path conform to its direction, and it left nothing in its wake unchanged. The entire landscape of that city was altered - all because of the water.

As the shock wore off and we began to observe the massive volunteer effort that arose almost instantly, we were impacted even more intensely. People came from all over and just started working wherever they saw a need. Neighbors who were spared walked through neighborhoods with their tools and cleaning supplies and began working on any house they saw. People like us traveled from other states in cars filled with supplies, found devastated homeowners and just started working. Some walked the streets with food, feeding the victims and the volunteers. Others passed out bottled water to ease the burden of those enduring the scorching summer temperatures. Some walked into random houses with dollies and started hauling out ruined appliances and furniture, never having met the person who lived there. Women found children wandering aimlessly around their yards and began to care for them while their parents worked in the toxic and dangerous environment that used to be their living rooms. More women collected salvagable clothing and began doing laundry wherever they could find a working machine. People whose homes were spared opened their homes and spare bedrooms to victims and strangers like us coming to help. Churches from all around banded together to pour thousands of volunteers into this devastated community, organizing work days and coordinating relief efforts.

It was all so natural. Nobody had to be told where to go or what to do. There was no government intervention and no visible leaders making things happen. No structure. No order. It was just a natural flow of loving people filling gaps and meeting needs for hurting people. It was countless volunteers flowing through a community filing into every available space and picking up a task. You couldn't tell where it all began or where it ended. it was just so... fluid. Like water. It was an amazing sight to see. I was deeply impacted by what I saw on that trip - in both the massive destruction AND the incredible movement of sacrificial love. And it all started with some water.

After we got home, we began evaluating the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit of God and how he is the source of life-changing phenomenons. It was the Holy Spirit who sparked a flame in our hearts and prompted us to go to a flooded city. It was He who called us to go and share the love of Christ to heart-broken people. We answered that call, and in the process, lives were transformed - both the victims we helped and even our very own. Something happened as we wrapped our arms around those who had lost everything and prayed to Almighty God on their behalf. We were able to love those strangers like we had known them forever. I saw a spark of hope in their tear-filled eyes. We felt something supernatural at work as God connected our hearts together and joined them with His in a moment of grace. It was the work of the Holy Spirit. It was something that far too many Christians miss in their daily routines of simply going to work, going to church, and going to potlucks. It was empowering. Faith-building. Energizing. Electric. It was awesome to be right in the middle of something God was doing. It was amazing to watch Him work. It was something I wanted to experience over and over again.

As Luke and I began to look closer and deeper, studying and reading about the Holy Spirit together, we were reminded that the Bible refers to Him as "Living Water". In John 7:37, Jesus says, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink." He goes on to say that out of the hearts of those who believe and follow Him will flow rivers of "living water", refering to the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit in us satisfies us and causes us to thirst no more. It's a supernatural drink that quenches not only our own thirst, but the thirst of others as "living water" pours out of our hearts and into the lives of those we encounter.

No one can live without water. It's essential. Water sustains life. Water satisfies the thirsty. Water is powerful. Water nurishes. Water causes growth. Water is constantly moving and never stagnant. Water flows with purpose and direction. Water fills every empty and available space. Water has the power and force to turn things upsidedown and change the entire lanscape of a city. I want my life to be filled with living water. I want to be part of a liquid church. I want this world to be filled with streams, rivers, and oceans of the living water that flows from One source - the Spirit of the living God.

Monday, June 21, 2010

To Forgive Is Divine

Have you ever had one of those moments in life when God just pins you down like a scrawny wrestler on a mat with with a heavyweight and so clearly drills something into your mind that it seems like He's shouting it from the heavens directly at you? I have those moments fairly often, but that could be because I'm so stubborn that I need a little more intervention than most of His children. God, being the ever-so-pateint gentleman that He is gives me plenty of chances to catch His drift before He has to resort to such measures, but for reasons I cannot fathom, I tend to ignore His still small voice and gentle nudge until He has to bombard me with a visual picture.

It's kind of like when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed in order to cover his indescretion. David was swimming in his own sin and was so blinded by it that he couldn't even see how wrong he was. So the Lord sent Nathan to David to paint a picture for him so clear that David would recognize his sin and become angered by it. Nathan told David a fictional story about a rich, powerful man who had everything stealing one poor man's single little lamb. David became angry at that fictional man's sin and said that man deserved to die. Then Nathan gave him the clincher: "You ARE that man!" That was a clever way for the Lord to show David the reality of his own sin. He knew that while David was having a hard time recognizing his own sin, he would easily recognize the same sin in someone else. Why do we do that? Why is it so easy to ignore and justify our own sin, yet become so angry when someone else commits the exact same sin?

Every now and then, the Lord sends a "Nathan" into my life to show me my flaws when I have a hard time seeing them in myself. And it happened to me this week. My husband had done something to make me angry (I know - it's shocking that my human, broken, sinful husband would do something to offend me... but he did). I became particularly mad a this offense because he did something that he has done many times before, and he knows very well how much it offends me. I've begged him for years not to do what he did, and while the sin has become less frequent, he still does it from time to time. Shortly after he committed this offense last week, he was convicted by the Holy Spirit, felt guilty, and confessed it to me. While I appreciated the confession and saw that as a mark of maturity, I was still so mad at what he did. I didn't want to let him off the hook so easily. I couldn't believe he would still do what he did after all these years of my begging him not to, and I just couldn't seem to forgive. He kept apologizing and asking for my forgiveness, but I wasn't willing to extend it. He kept apologizing, and I kept being mad. I shamefully admit that this went on for a couple days. I felt the prompting of the Lord to forgive him several times. I was reminded of what Scripture says about forgiveness and my own sinful state, and I was reminded of my love for him and the wonderful husband he is... but I just wouldn't let it go.

Finally, a couple days later, I was driving down the street alone. I was a little distracted (and in a bad mood because of the turmoil in my home) and not paying much attention to the cars around me. I started to get over into another lane, and I hastily made the move without really looking to see if there were any cars next to me. Now in my defense, the lane I was getting into had just begun so there shouldn't have been anyone in the lane, but a tiny little car sped into the lane from behind me and happened to be right beside me when I started to merge into his territory. I swerved into his lane and almost hit him when I saw his little car inches away from my larger SUV. I narrowly missed him, swerved back into my original lane, and then properly merged in behind him. Even though he probably got over quicker than he should have and was speeding, it was my responsibility to look for him before I got into his lane and I almost hit him. It was my irresponsibility, and I was sorry for almost causing an accident. I waved to him and mouthed the word "sorry" so he would know I was sorry. He threw his hands in the air and yelled at me with a disgusted look on his face. I rolled my window down to let him know that I was truly sorry for my mistake - maybe he couldn't see that I was sorry. This time I said, "I'm SO sorry," and he again made rude gestures and yelled obscenities at me. That made me furious. There I was trying so hard to apologize, and he wouldn't accept it. Then I spoke these words aloud, "What a miserable little man - HE WON'T EVEN LET ME BE SORRY!"

That's when my very own words pierced my soul like a lightning bolt from heaven. I was that man! Oh how ashamed I felt when I realized that he was my Nathan and I was David. I was so disgusted that this man (a stranger) wouldn't accept my genuine apology while I had not accepted my own husband's for 2 days. God used that simple situation in my day to show me my hypocrisy - and it worked. I did forgive my husband. And I'm ashamed that it took that kind of knock over the head to get it. When will I ever start heading the still small voice of the Spirit that says, "Do this?" Oh how I long for the day when I will have the maturity and the wisdom to both recognize my wrongs AND correct them, without the Lord having to send me a Nathan to spell it out in a real-life, kindergarten-level scenario. But oh how thankful I am that He loves me so much and so wants me to grow up into Him that He takes the time to teach me on my level. Our God is an incredible Father. And I am thankful for the way He parents me. But most of all, I'm thankful for His undying, unending, never-failing love for me that transcends my stubborn heart and covers for my many weaknesses. Now if only I could learn to love like that.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Choose Your Battles

When I had my first child, almost 8 years ago, I was determined to tackle the parenting role with flawless precision. I prepared myself by taking every class offered, reading every book written, and learning everything I could about being a great parent. And it's a good thing I did, because that first child turned out to be about as strong-willed and difficult as they come, and I needed every bit of ammunition I had acquired.
One expression I had always heard other parents say was "choose your battles". In other words, some things are worth fighting and some things are not worth the time, effort, and emotional strain. Well I got where they were coming from, but that just wasn't my style. To me, those people who "chose their battles" just didn't have the stamina and determination to stand up and fight every fight. But I did. I was not down with choosing the battles - I was the Commander in Chief, and I was not only going to fight every one of them, but I was going to win them. And I did. I used every ounce of my being to control that child and make sure he did everything the way I wanted him too. No matter how hard the task or how strong his opposition, I dominated his will and shaped him into an obedient, respectful little person who didn't dare step out of line. Now don't get me wrong, I loved him abundantly and showered him with affection during this process because I strongly believe that rules without relationship lead to rebellion. But through all the hugs and kisses, I won the battles, and I won them decisively. All that hard work paid off. I now have a well-behaved child who is a joy to be around, excels in school, and actually enjoys following the rules. Mission accomplished.

Strangely, the rules seems to change when I had my second child. I was six years older, no longer had the energy I once had, and now had twice the work load raising two kids instead of one. There was homework and lunch-packing added to the diaper changing and spoon feeding. Twice the laundry, and twice the mess. Let's just say I soon realized what it meant to "choose my battles".
I just don't seem to care as much anymore. I love my youngest son equally, and I devote as much care and attention to him, but I just don't seem to have the drive to win that I used to have. I'm still a firm believer in discipline, but perfection is no longer my goal. I've let myself (and him) off the hook a little more. I must admit, I surprise myself sometimes with the way I react to a situation: I've even said to myself, "Aren't you going to do something about that?" only to walk away in sheer surrender. Don't tell anyone, but I've even committed the worst "mommy sin" ever (in Mandi's parenting Bible) - I've shoved a cookie in my one year-old's hand just to shut him up. I know, I know! It pains me to even write that! This morning while walking through the grocery store, my youngest refused to sit facing forward in the kart. He kept turning around backwards with his feet sticking out above the child seat. Now if that was my oldest child, I would have turned him around as many times as it took until he was sitting up straight, facing the proper way, with both feet in the right holes and a smile on his face. This time, however, I looked at the little misfit (with cookie in his hand by the way) and said, "Fine. Sit backwards if you want. Hang your feet over the edge. I don't care." That battle was just not worth fighting in that moment. I just wanted to get out of there with my groceries and my sanity.

Amazing what 6 years can do to one's parenting style. Oh how we change as the years go by. And oh how different we are from God - the ultimate parent. He was the same parent in the beginning of time, and He will be the same at the end of time. He never grows weary, never loses stamina, and never gets overwhelmed by His workload. His philosophy remains the same. His style remains constant. And we can count on His consistency day after day after day, until the end of the age. Nothing we do is going to throw Him off or cause Him to have a bad day. We can't exhaust Him. And even better, we can't exhaust His love for us. And thankfully for me, He will never throw His hands up and say, "Fine, do what you want, I don't care!" His level of care remains the same, no matter what we do to exhaust it. So the next time you think you expended your resources with your heavenly Father, think again. His account never runs out. He has just as much time and energy for you today as he ever had and ever will. And the great thing is He WANTS us to use Him. His word says, "Cast your cares on Him because He cares for you" (1Peter 5:7). There's no limit. You can never cast too much. He can handle all the burdens you give Him and then some. And He does it with delight.
Are you carrying a burden that you were never meant to carry, simply because you've neglected to cast it upon Him? Are you worried that you've somehow exhausted Him and He doesn't have the energy to keep dealing with your "stuff"? He gladly wants to deal with your stuff, so go ahead - throw it His way. And remember, no matter what kind of strong-willed, hard-headed child you are, he will never grow tired of parenting you. And here's just a little side note: He created you that way, so He knew exactly what He was getting. Thank God that He never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever... and we can count on His perfect parenting no matter how we stray. So these days, I will keep choosing my battles and trying to make it through raising my second child with my sanity in tact... while God keeps choosing to fight every battle on my behalf with the guarantee of victory. Amen to that!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Desperate for a Date

A couple years ago our then-church hosted a Red Cross blood drive. The Red Cross people came in and transformed the fellowship hall into a mobile blood bank, and people from the church and the community came to donate blood. I volunteered to help recruit donors and made phone calls to countless people asking them to come out and donate blood. I’m not real enthusiastic about giving blood myself – only because my veins are tiny and it’s usually difficult for anyone to get blood from them on the first stick of the needle. Most of the time, the nurse has to dig around a little bit before she gets blood flowing, and it’s just not a fun experience. My husband, however, has perfect veins and donates often. Since he is such a good sport about it, and I had spent my whole week convincing people to come give blood, I figured we should show up and support the event. I wasn’t sure I was actually going to donate, but I would at least show my face. Besides, our son was going to be with us and someone (me) had to keep an eye on him. So after Luke got home from work, we headed over to the church. We got there shortly before they were going to wrap up and it was a very slow time. There were no donors in the chairs and the room was quiet. There was a table full of goodies – juice and cookies – and we hadn’t eaten dinner yet, so they looked very tasty. Our youth pastor’s wife had the kids outside playing volleyball, and she took my son outside to play.

As the nurse handed us the forms to fill out and asked us if we were ready to donate, I still felt a little hesitant so I kind of motioned for her to pass them on to my husband and skip me. Then all of the sudden, it dawned on me. My son is off playing in the care of a wonderful lady… there is no one in this room but my husband and me and a few nurses…it’s quiet and relaxing in here… there’s free snacks… they’re asking me to sit in a chair right next to my husband for the next twenty minutes strapped in the chair with no way to get up, no phone to ring, and no distractions of a television or a four year-old…. This is a date! I instantly became thrilled to donate blood and began looking forward to the opportunity to sit with my husband in a quiet room for twenty minutes with no distractions and a free babysitter! I walked in hesitant to give blood, and I was now gleaming at the prospect of having a date with my husband at a make-shift blood bank. I asked the nurse if I could scoot my lounge chair right next to my husband’s so we could sit together. She looked at me strangely but agreed. I was all set to go and looking forward to having her stick a big needle in my arm and draining out a pint of my blood (no matter how many sticks it took)! As it turned out, my dream date didn’t happen because during the pre-screening process we discovered that we were not eligible to donate blood because we had been to Africa within the past year, making us at risk for blood-born diseases such as malaria, which is unsafe for the U.S. blood supply. I was so disappointed when they told us we could not donate. There went my date night – right out the window. Luke and I laughed at how pathetic it was that we were actually looking forward to giving blood just to get a date night. You know you’re desperate when you’ll let someone stick you with a needle just to get some good quality quiet time with your spouse. It’s amazing what parents of a four year-old will do to get a free babysitter, some Little Debby’s brownies, and twenty minutes of peace and quiet!

I was willing to do just about anything for a date with my husband. But God knocked on my heart and caused me to ponder what I would do for a date with Him? With God? Yes. God wants to spend good quality time with us every day too. He wants regular dates with us. He wants to talk to us, hear what’s on our hearts, have us get to know Him better, and just spend some good time relating with us. That’s what relationship is all about, and He has made it very clear in His word that He wants a relationship with us. He is our Father and we are His children. Doesn’t that signify that there is a relationship between us? What parent doesn’t relate to his child? God also uses the marriage union to symbolize His relationship with us as He calls the church His bride and Himself the groom. Search the scriptures and you will see all over the Word of God references to the church as the “bride of Christ”. We the church – His followers, His children, His beloved – are called His bride, and He wants an intimate relationship with us as such. Jesus even says before his resurrection that he is going to heaven to prepare a place for us and then come back for us when the time is right. That was symbolic of the Jewish wedding tradition of the groom leaving his bride at her family’s home while he went off to build a house and prepare a dwelling place for them, and then coming back for her when he was ready to bring her to their new life together. Jesus uses the wedding illustration and the reference of the bride and groom to refer to His relationship with us more than any other illustration. It’s clear that He wants a relationship with us that is reflective of the marriage relationship, and that means He wants regular dates with us.

What would we do to have a date with Him? Would we turn off the TV… or get up a little earlier in the morning? Would we ignore the phone… or put off the housework for just a few minutes longer? Let’s even take it a step further: would we risk our lives like some Christians do in other countries where praying is illegal and Christianity is punishable by death? In this very day, there are countless Christians all over the world who risk their lives to read a Bible. They could be killed for speaking the name of Jesus, but they risk it all to have a relationship with Him. What would we do for a date with that God? How quickly do we pass up the opportunity and throw aside our chances to converse with the Creator if the universe as if it were no big deal? We have the privilege of having the God of all nations, creator of all, almighty and powerful God wanting to have a date with us – who He calls His precious children, objects of His affection, His beloved bride. And we have the freedom in this country to do it. Why would we want to pass that up? We have unconditional access to God, and so often we take that for granted. If He wants to have dates with us, why would we deny Him?

I’ve asked the question, and we’ve considered what we would do for a date with God, but we must also consider what He did for a date with us? He wanted so badly to have a personal relationship with us; an intimate connection; and access to our hearts so He could have regular dates with us… that He sacrificed it all. He gave everything. He gave His life. He was the one who gave His blood so that we could have dates with him whenever we want. He ultimately shed His blood and died as a sacrifice so our sins would no longer separate us from Him – so we could have access to Him anytime, anywhere. He paid the ultimate price. He wants dates with us. And oh how I want to crave those dates with Him. If we are willing to do just about anything to spend time with our spouses, friends, and loved ones, how much more should we want to spend time with our Savior? Plan it – schedule it – look forward to it… even get a babysitter if you have to. But have a date with God. And may it be a wonderful intimate loving time between your God and His precious beloved bride.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What’s Different About Me?

My son Jonah likes to play a little game with us sometimes that he calls “what’s different about me?” He leaves the room and comes back “different” and then asks us to guess what that difference is. For example, he may be wearing some different clothes… or he may have a sticker on him he didn’t used to have… or he may be making a silly face. Then he asks us, “What’s different about me,” and we have to guess. The other day, the three of us were lying in my bed (as we often do on Saturday mornings) just enjoying being lazy, when Jonah jumped up and said, “Let’s play what’s different about me!” Before we could even answer, he was running out of the room to become “different”. He came back a few minutes later wearing his Daddy’s shoes. He could barely contain his giggles as we “guessed” what was different about him. He ran out again and came back with a napkin on his head. When we finally guessed that one, he ran out again and came back a little less obvious. We couldn’t tell right away what was different, but we studied him a while and figured out that he was holding his hands in fists. “Your hands are different,” I exclaimed as he laughed at how hard it was for us to figure out. That game can go on and on for hours if we let it. He just loves to try and fool us.

Jonah likes to play that game often, and even though it can get a little tiresome for the rest of us, he’s got the right idea. What do I mean? Well, I’ve realized that as Christians, we really should all be playing that game all the time – without necessarily knowing it. When we give our lives to Christ and accept Him into our lives to be our Lord and Savior, we experience some changes in our lives. When the spirit of God comes to take up residency in us, He immediately starts a transformation process that doesn’t end until we’re taken home to heaven. Some changes are instant, and some are a longer process. Some are drastic, and some are barely noticeable. But either way we are being changed. As soon as we give up our own rights to our lives and give complete authority and control to God, He begins the process of molding and shaping us into the image of His son Jesus. His goal in everything we go through in life is to make us more and more like Jesus, who was the perfect representation of Him. The longer we engage in our relationship with Christ, the more changes we undergo. The more we come to know God, the more like Him (and less like the rest of the world) we become. So those of us who have walked with the Lord for any length of time should be used to constant changing, and we should be very different than the “world”.

The world is just a term used to describe a society of those who don’t have Christ – those who are living for this world rather than eternity. It’s those who still hold onto authority over their own lives and live according to humanistic standards rather than yielded to God’s spiritual authority… unbelievers… people who are governed by society and human values rather than governed by God. The Bible refers to the world often and distinguishes it as those who are not walking under God’s authority. You know them well.

The Bible tells us that although we are in the world, we are not supposed to be of the world (2Corinthians 10:2-4). That basically means that although we live here among the worldly and godless, we are foreigners in this society and should be noticeably different from the others. We are not to conform to the world’s standards. We are not to behave or even think like they do. Our minds and spirits have been transformed away from their faithless ways, and we should reflect God more than we reflect this world. We should feel like foreigners here, and I don’t know about you, but I feel extremely out of place sometimes! We are different. And we should act different. We should essentially be behaving as God’s children and Christ’s followers and unconsciously asking the world every day “what’s different about me”. And you may not think it, but the world does notice our differences. We behave in ways that leave them wondering what we have that they don’t. Our ways should make them hungry for the God we serve. They should be able to look on at how we conduct our lives or how we handle a situation and say “how do they do that”. That’s how we testify to the amazing grace and power of our God. Our transformed lives are the world’s evidence that God exists and actively works in our personal lives.

When the world holds grudges, we forgive. When the world complains, we are content. When the world cheats and lies to get ahead, we are honest and wait on God’s promotions. When the world looks right past the poor, helpless, outcasted and needy people, we reach out to help. When the world uses profane words and blasphemes the name of God, we praise Him with our lips and edify with our words. When the world aborts babies in the name of convenience, we embrace and nurture our children with love. When the world uses drugs and substances to escape the reality of life, we remain sober and completely satisfied as we get “high” on the fact that we’re heaven-bound. When the world engages in pornography and casual sex and treats people as objects, we cultivate deep loving relationships with a spouse we love unconditionally, faithfully and sacrificially. When the world gives up on marriage and allows divorce to break apart families, we continue to selflessly love and rely on God for healing and help. While the world sits back and demands others to serve them, we are busy serving and giving. While the world cares about status and position, we are happy to be humble servants of a living God. While the world worships superficial things like entertainment, money, and Hollywood, we spend out time, efforts, and money worshiping a God who saves, heals, and changes lives. While the world seeks careers and power at the expense of their families, we put family first, often sacrificing monetary gain. When the world loses its temper, we remain calm and self-controlled. When the world abandons morals and values to advance a progressive society, we cling to our God-given guidelines and standards in order to leave a legacy of values and faith to our next generations.

You see, we are (and should be) very different from the rest of the world and our differences should be getting more and more evident every day. If we’re not, then we’re not yielded enough to the Spirit of God, and we’re not turning away from our sin regularly and asking Him to change us. Because if we do that, the Bible promises that we will see results. I once heard a pastor ask this compelling question during a sermon. “If you were accused at your workplace of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Think about that. If someone – anyone – in any situation (your workplace, your neighborhood, your social circle) accused you of being a Christian, would there be enough hard evidence to convict you beyond a reasonable doubt, or would it simply be circumstantial? Are you different enough that people can figure it out? When the world looks at you, do they see behavior that is remarkably unlike theirs, leaving them with the notion that your God really does change people? We need to be playing the game with them. We need to be asking, “what’s different about me,” and give them the answer that the difference in you is Jesus.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

There's a Board in Your Head!

First remove the plank from your own eye, before you try to remove the speck from your neighbor’s (Matthew 7:5)

A couple years ago when Jonah was 5, we took a short drive over to Tennessee to meet up with some good friends who had moved there from our home town. We hadn’t seen these friends much since we moved out of Florida to North Carolina, so we were excited to catch up. These friends are the kind you just “click” with and can talk to for hours while time flies by without notice. As soon as we arrived in town we took the kids to a park to play on the playground, and we adults found a good spot to sit and chat. There was so much to catch up on. We women perched ourselves on a bench in the shade, and the men found their own spot where they could talk about “manly” things under a pavilion. We were all keeping one eye on the kids as we chatted, and anyone who knows the four of us knows we are probably the most attentive sets of parents one could meet.

My son was playing on a swing, minding his own business and having a good old time when a whiny little girl came over and started to remove him from the swing. “I want to swing on that swing,” she squealed as her mom came over to intervene. I was watching intently, but I didn’t get up because I assumed the other mom was going to correct her daughter and handle the situation appropriately (as any reasonable parent would do). I was wrong. Apparently the mother didn’t have much control over her aggressive daughter, and she was trying desperately to persuade the little girl to leave Jonah alone and wait her turn. “Please,” she begged the little girl, “Let’s find a different swing to play on.” But the girl kept yelling, “I want THAT one,” and she continued to try to force Jonah off. Finally, Jonah just got off the swing and left, and he walked away with a bewildered look on his face. He was probably wondering why that mother let her daughter get away with behavior like that, because he knows his mommy would certainly never have tolerated it! Both my friend and I had the same thought… “Brat,” we mumbled under our breath. We couldn’t believe what we had just seen. “I just can’t stand it when parents can’t parent their children,” I complained. She agreed. She’s on top of her child just like I am, and we tend to agree on those kinds of issues. “There’s just no excuse for a parent to be ruled by her 4 year-old like that,” I continued, “And she didn’t even rebuke that child’s behavior… I would have taken her to the car and given her a swift spanking!”

I finally finished my judgmental remarks and went back to chatting with my friend. Some time went by, and we kind of got caught up in conversation and unintentionally stopped paying much attention to the kids. The men had walked away a little and taken a phone call, so they weren’t really watching either. I didn’t know it, but Jonah had climbed up on top of something that was too high for him to jump off of. He was stuck up there and couldn’t get down, and he was calling for me to help him. I was so engaged in my conversation that I didn’t notice his predicament. Finally, another mother came walking over to the bench we were sitting on and asked me, “Is that boy over there your son?” She was pointing to Jonah, and before I could say “yes”, she informed me that he was stuck and calling for help. “I tried to help him down,” she said, “But he said he wanted his mommy to help him.” “Oh my goodness… thank you,” I said as I jumped up to go rescue him. I got him down and he was fine, but as I walked back over to my bench, I realized that the mom who tried to help him was the mother of the bratty girl who I just finished criticizing. Here I was accusing her of not being a parent while my son was stranded on the top of the monkey bars calling for my help while I chatted away! The bad parent was trying to help my child while super mom (that’s me) was too busy chatting to even notice he needed me! Boy did I feel dumb.

God took the opportunity to knock on my heart and remind me that I can’t sit in arrogance like that very long before He steps in and intervenes. I was reminded of a scripture I have to confront often (apparently it’s one of my weaknesses). You hypocrite. First remove the plank out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your neighbor’s eye (Matthew 7:5)”, the Lord reminded me. That little girl may have been a brat, and the mother may have not handled the situation or the discipline properly, but I am far from being a perfect parent, and my sins are just as big as the next guys. Too often we spend so much time trying to pick at the faults of others while we ignore our own faults, and this scripture reminds us that we’re nitpicking at someone else’s tiny speck while we walk around with huge planks. I love the visual picture of this scripture. Picture yourself walking around with a huge 2x4 board sticking out of our head while you’re chasing after someone else trying to remove their little splinter. That would look really silly. That’s how silly we look to God when we do that with sin, faults, and flaws. Why are ours so easy to ignore and others’ so easy to spot? God’s word tells us that if we would just concentrate on removing our own iniquities, we’d be able to see better and judge situations more clearly. And yes, sometimes we do need to help others remove their specks, but we can only do it properly if we’ve first dealt with our own. If we judge the situation arrogantly as if we are so much better than someone else, we are certainly not going to be able to produce anything godly or fruitful. Why even bother to try to make someone else’s heart right if ours is not even right? Shouldn’t we care just as much - or more - about the condition of our own hearts? That’s clearly what God wants us to do.

Everyone sins. So we will always be surrounded by people who sin and who don’t conduct themselves in a Biblical manner. And there will always be people who struggle, mess up, and make mistakes. There’ no doubt we will come in contact with these people, and sometimes we will be those people. If we all worked just as hard removing our own sins as we do trying to correct others, we’d probably be OK. In fact, we’d likely be too distracted to even notice their sins as much. This is the idea Jesus had as He spoke those words in Matthew’s gospel. It’s fine (and even good) to try to help someone overcome sinful habits, and it can be very helpful to counsel someone and use the word of God to correct someone’s wrong behavior. But it should always be approached with humility and love, with an understanding that we ourselves are guilty and no better in God’s eyes than the one we’re trying to help.

In fact, we should be just as humble and teachable when someone tries to help us overcome sin by pointing out our wrong behavior. Do you have someone in your life who can do that? Do you allow your spouse or a good trusted friend to be brutally honest with you and tell you where you may be straying? Do you get defensive when he or she approaches you with loving critique, or do you humbly thank them for their exhortation and pray for God’s help to overcome it? Think about it honestly. If you are truly sinning (and I’m not just talking about making an honest mistake – but truly sinning) and a godly friend or relative you trust points out that your behavior is unpleasing to God and needs to change, how do you react? Do you immediately think, “How dare they say that about me… who do they think they are… how can they judge me like that when they are no good themselves!” If you do, that is wrong. The Bible says to have a teachable spirit, and it also says faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). You know how Jesus feels about hypocrisy, so if you’re not humble enough to take the criticism, you certainly should be slow to dish it out. And you should have a friend or relative who you allow the privilege to honestly point out your iniquities with the intention of holding you accountable to your own godly standards. For me, it’s my husband who has that role. And sometimes it’s a good friend and sister in Christ. But there are people whose judgment I value who I permit to be that honest with me. Trust me, it keeps you humble!

This is something I’m constantly struggling with, but I believe God has taken me a long way in my walk so far. I do, however, realize I still have a way to go. There are certain things that I do well (as we all do). But there are other things I do not do so well. I can’t let my strengths make me so arrogant that I prey on others’ weaknesses. That is ungodly and unbiblical, and I have to let scripture remind me of that often. I learned a good lesson on that playground that day, and God didn’t waste any time putting me in my place (He never does). I’m thankful for that. Faithful are the wounds of my Friend… my best Friend… Jesus… and I’d much rather hear it from Him than have to hear it from someone else.