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.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

For the past couple years, I've been writing about the things that impact my heart, my mind, and my life. Little things - average experiences - that end up impacting me in a big way. As I've looked into my every-day "moments" as a woman, a wife, a mother, a homemaker, and a citizen of my country, I've learned to see beyond the surface experience and see a life lesson. I've realized that God has taught me so much about myslef, about Himself, and about who He wants us to be... just through little "moments" in my life that could have easily been glanced over. When I take the time to analyze the deeper meanings of my moments, and look deeper into the spiritual significance of the little things that happen in my day, my eyes are opened to a whole world of wisdom and heart-felt "moments" with God that I could have missed altogether had I not been listening for the still small knock on my heart's door.

I started writing about these moments a couple years ago when I moved to the mountains of North Carolina in 2006. As a stay-home mom with a son just starting pre-school, I had time on my hands, new experiences on my horizon, and new scenery outside my door. Writing became my passion, and I began writing spiritual devotions, Bible studies, and just every-day short stories about little things that happened in my day that ended up translating into things that impacted my life in a big way. These "moments" as I call them, have shaped who I am, how I live my life, and how I've developed an intimate relationship with my Creator. They were just regular little moments in my average mundane day, that I began to realize were actually teachable moments orchestrated by God Himslef to connect His heart to mine. These moments have turned into a collection of writings that I hope to one day make into a book - one that inspires average, every-day women like me (wives, moms, daughters, sisters, and private citizens) to look deeper into what seems like their mundane daily experiences and allow God to open a whole world of insight into His beauty, His character, and His love for us.

If you learn to look for it, God can use something simple that comes out of the mouth of your 4 year-old to be the profound words that make you realize just how He feels about you in that moment. If you slow down and begin to look at life through your God-given spiritual "glasses", you can learn to see Him in a way that you never have before. And you'll realize that He truly walks with you - every moment of every day.

The writings in this blog are ones that I will use to eventually compose my book called "Moments". I will post my earlier writings, on this blog as well as continue to write about and share anecdotes from my current daily experiences. My prayer is that it will inspire readers to develop a more intimate relationship with Christ through their own daily expereinces... or at the very least, encourage them to enjoy life a little more.

I am a wife - married to my first love for 10 years - and a mother of two boys (ages 7 & 18 months). I am a homemaker who occassionally works part-time outside the home to get adult-interaction and away from diapers. However, I absolutely love caring for my family and managing my home. I love spending time with my husband (who is the love of my life and my best friend), cooking, raising my boys, worshipping God, reading, writing, being outdoors, decorating, and of course shopping! I live in Asheville, North Carolina, and there is no other place I'd rather be. I graduated from the University of Florida (go Gators) with a degree in Health Science Education.