Sunday, December 29, 2013

Getting a jump start on the New Year--Setting goals

Well, I finished the book Shame Interrupted  before Christmas, so I felt really good that I met that goal. Also, Kate and I took our Christmas tree down Friday, and I bought some additional rubbermaid containers yesterday  and got the kids' closets in pretty decent shape.  Today, since Joseph was not feeling well this morning, I stayed in from church with him.  While we were here alone,  I finished typing up my life purpose/goals statement; that monstrosity ended up being 13 pages long (!!!lol), though, so I will not bore anyone with it on here further than I already have just by sharing the main life purpose statement.  I broke it down into eight subheadings: personal godliness, marriage, home and family, home education, ministry, financial, friendships, and health.  Hopefully, thinking through all these things will help me to make better decisions regarding the ways I spend time and money, and help me to push forward in pursuing the best in my relationships with God, my husband, my kids, and others God has put in my life.  I am also hoping to get some direction in the next couple weeks for a way to make regular exercise a part of my life, and also figure out what kind of diet will work for our family, but be doable in our budget and also with Joseph's health issues.  Lots to do today, including a monster pile of clean laundry in my living room floor to be folded.  And lesson planning for the spring semester for the kiddos. One of my goals for the year is to write regularly.  So hopefully I will be blogging a bit more.  And I  promised Joseph in the next day or so that we will play his new board game.    So without further adieu, I will end this post and on to all the stuff I have to do this afternoon.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Writing a novel is harder than it sounds. lol

Well, I have started on the novel.  And by started, I mean I have STARTED.  Barely.  I have been trying to develop the characters in my mind, and wrote a few pages just to get SOMETHING, ANYTHING down on paper.  I have no clue what I am doing.  And when I say I am clueless, I mean CLUELESS.  I am as clueless a writer as I am a painter.  I just feel like I should say this.  I am proud to document my cluelessness.  I have been learning about what it means to "despise the shame', as Jesus did,  of our personal weaknesses and/or failures, and to count it as insignificant compared to knowing Him.  Therefore,  I want this to be known far and wide that I am not one with much of any talent or ability.  My hope and prayer, however, is that God will use me in whatever capacity He sees fit to bring glory and honor to his name, and if he chooses He can work with me in this effort, and it could turn out to be something worth reading.  I am praying that God will lead and guide me in this effort, and give me the wisdom I need to do the job well.  But if it is at all, it will be because of HIM and NOT ME.
In my quiet time this morning, I glanced back at the goals I had set for 2013 back in January; it was exciting to see that, while there are several I did not achieve (the weekly exercise one, and the going to bed/getting up at same times being the two main ones I did not accomplish), most of the ones I wrote down I was able, with God's help to accomplish.  They included trying to have Bible time with the kiddos atleast four times a week, going gluten free for 2 months with Joseph, getting away for a weekend with Joe and taking atleast one family vacation.  I was also able to read through the four gospels and the book of Acts this year, which is not reading through the whole Bible, my original goal,  but I still consider it a victory that I am doing better at having regular quiet times.  I strived to pray more and worry less, and I will have completed working through the book Shame Interrupted by the end of the year, as well as finishing up my working on my life purposes/goals/manifesto.   All this to say, I was very encouraged by the spiritual progress God has helped me to make this year, and am excited to see where God will take me and my family in 2014.  I am planning to take a facebook/online sabbatical in January to pray for the year ahead, and seek God's guidance and wisdom in what my focus should be for 2014. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Small beginnings

“[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 

Well, I have begun the process of working on a novel.  It's not something I have ever done before, and it's actually something that feels impossible to me.  Therefore, it actually seems more probable to me that God would use me in this way, since it is a desire of my heart, but I know it can only be done with His help.  So if I am to succeed, I know it will be because God has done it, not me.  I don't expect to be on any bestseller lists anytime soon, lol, nor am I sure I would even write something that would be more than self-published.   But my hope is to write something my children will enjoy, and just because it is another mountain to conquer.  In the meantime, prayers are appreciated.   

I thought I would also share the verse that has been in my mind tonight. I am thinking it's the Holy Spirit's way of encouraging me.   

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.  -Zechariah 4:10

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Putting Jesus in a box

You need to separate your faith from your life, they say.  This Jesus stuff, it's alright on Sunday morning, but come on, Monday morning?  That's the time to live your life and go to work and school kids and do your thing.  God is alright for Sundays, but it's best to just relegate him to weekends and leave the Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays for the rest of your life.  Let's just compartmentalize it all, shall we?  Let's put Jesus in the box we like him in, and leave him there, and maybe pull him out on Christmas and Easter, or when tragedy strikes.  Anytime but a normal boring weeknight. 
God doesn't care what you eat or where you work or how you spend your money, so long as he gets the little bit you have leftover after a week of running and doing.  It's like we forget that we're not human DOINGS; we are human BEINGS.

Sometimes, I feel like a freak.  I think of him all the time; by HIM, I mean HIM, the maker of my soul.  The one who formed space and time and put it in a box and presented it to mankind.  The one who loves me and knows me better than I know myself.  I am hungry for him, to know him more.  I am weak and ignorant and helpless, and for the first time in a long time I am OKAY WITH THAT, because I finally see it's HOW it's SUPPOSED TO BE.  I wasn't made to have all the answers or be all things to all people.  I was only meant to know the one who does and is, and share the light he puts inside me.  

I am a mess, let me tell you.  But I am a better woman as a mess than I ever was when I was a woman who thought she had to have it all together.  I thank God that he delivered me from that pit of pride, and that he continues to do so.  It's a beautiful thing to see that even when I stumbled, as I did so many years ago, that even in the stumbling God had my back. 

I know what it is to be 21 years old, to be pregnant outside of marriage, and a youth minister to boot.  I know what it is to feel rejected by people you had hoped would love you, but I also know what it is to be accepted and loved by people you were sure would reject you.  I have felt the sting of wearing my sin like a public badge, a scarlet letter.  Of feeling there is nothing you can do that will ever wash you clean again, and all the plans and purposes you thought God had for your life are so broken and bruised you can never recover them again.  That all of life just becomes this vain attempt to at least not screw things up worse, to just not be any more of a disappointment than you already are.  To feel that you are no longer useful to God or yourself, and maybe if you just keep your head down you'll get through to the end of the song and dance called life without humiliating yourself further.  I have been that woman. 

But praise God, I know now that those are just lies.  Life in Christ is never about being perfect.  It's about being PERFECTED BY HIM.  It's about HIM working in me, setting me free from myself and the prisons of expectations about what I have to be to be loved by Him.  And while I will never say I was proud of my sin, I can say I am proud of my GOD.  A God who redeems brokenness, who took my sin and turned it from emptiness into one of the greatest blessings in my life: my daughter Kate.  To see how before that moment of pain, I would have continued to do my best to minister to people in my own strength.  But after, I was too broken. And though it took years for God to open my eyes to all of it, I see alot of it now.  I see his love and his grace and his compassion and how he takes broken things and makes them strong in Him. 

So when I see how in our culture we want to compartmentalize God, it makes me weep.  NO, I SAY! If God is not God in your life on Monday morning in the office or in your home with small children, then WHEN is he God to you at all?  Sunday is wonderful.  I cherish a day of rest, and contemplation and study.  But it's Monday morning when my soul is thirsty.  It's Thursday night at dinnertime when the kids are whining when I need Him to be real and there and guarding my heart and teaching me what it means to LOVE unconditionally and speak kindly.  It's Friday night, around the dinner table, when I want him there with me, savoring his word as a family or praying together or just laughing together and loving and BEING.  Because I for one am tired of all the DOING. 

And I want him OUT of the box.  I want more of Jesus and less of me.  I want to let go of my idea of what He has to be for me to say I will worship him, and worship him as he IS, which is always better than I come up with anyway.  I want the fullness of His word,and not just the verse that suits me today.  I want to be uncomfortable with the hugeness of God and the smallness of myself and run back to him just the same.  Because he is it.  He is all I will ever want or need.  And he is MORE than ENOUGH.

I want to be like John, pressed against his breast, listening to the heartbeat of Almighty God.  I want to know him and the power of his resurrection, not just to raise the dead in body, but to raise the spiritually dead.  I want to be like Moses, who spoke to him face to face.  Who stood before him, and knew he was holy and trembled.   Like Paul, who was once Saul, but no more.  Who knew that EVERYTHING else, all the STUFF we run after, it's just DUNG compared to knowing HIM. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Acts 12- The Power of Prayer

This morning my quiet time was in Acts 12.  I am going to post the whole thing, because I see it as a beautiful snapshot of life (Don't bail on me yet. Read it with me, hear me out, and let me know what you think.):

Herod’s Violence to the Church

Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.

Peter Freed from Prison

Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”
12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. 13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. 15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”
16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.
18 Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. 19 But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death.
And he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there.

Herod’s Violent Death

20 Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country.
21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22 And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

Barnabas and Saul Appointed

25And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.

Did you notice this chapter begins with Herod's violence to the church, but the story ends with God's judgement on Herod?  It seems poetic, almost, in a weird sort of way.  The man who tried to position himself in the seat of God over others, to execute them and bring violence to them, comes to his own violent end when he steals God's glory.  The other thing I noticed is that God did not supernaturally intervene in the deat of the apostle James, but he does supernaturally intervene to rescue Peter.  I don't understand that, but isn't that kind of how it is in life?  Aren't there times as Christians we fellow believers suffer--maybe the loss of a child, maybe persecution, maybe sickness,  maybe financial struggles--and God atleast initially appears to be silent and unmoved?  I say "appears", because, truly, that's all it is.  I don't believe God is ever truly silent or unmoved by any true injustice; the only reason we can arrogantly assume so, is because we live within the confines of time and space, and we can't see the end from the beginning.  I do not believe any injustice will ultimately go unpunished.  I don't believe God even allows tragedy to touch the life of a believer, without knowing it will ultimately work for our good and His glory.  But isn't that how we think sometimes?  In the span of a couple of verses, God allows the martyrdom of James, then he goes on to supernaturally rescue Peter.  And sandwiched between these two events is one key scripture, verse 5:  
Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.

Now, I honestly don't know how much the church prayed for James before he died.  Maybe there was little time.  Maybe it took them by surprise; often tragedies do.  They never take God by surprise though.  I am seeing that God is good, and I truly believe that if it would have been necessary for the church and better for James, God would have still stepped in to save him.  But God does let us know here that prayer is a powerful thing, because it seems to be a key thing in this situation.  So God's sovereignty, while it's clearly seen in scripture, does not negate God's call to His people to actions of service, including and ESPECIALLY prayer.  God wants to talk to us.  He wants us to talk to him, and tell him our needs and questions. Mostly, I think, for us.  So that WHEN he answers prayer, we can recognize HE is the one who did the answering.  Then, HE gets the glory, NOT us.

And it's reassuring to me to see the church's response.  Did it require great faith for God to answer their prayers?  Apparently not, based on the response of the people when Peter showed up at their door.  The poor guy had the door slammed in his face, while some of them thought he had to be a ghost!  It's pretty comical, actually. But God sobers us pretty quickly, when we realize that the cost of his answering the prayer for Peter's rescue was the lives of the soldiers guarding him.  I know to us, they are nameless, faceless people.  But those were real people, who had families, mothers, perhaps children and wives.  They may have never knew that those lives were the cost of spreading the gospel.  But they were.  Because, ultimately,  that's where this chapter leads us, doesn't it?  It sums it up in  verse 24:

 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

That verse says alot.  All of these events had a purpose, and we can know God's purposes and plans will come to pass.  Good WILL triumph over evil.  We don't have to bite our nails as we watch people hurt each other,or even just endure tragedy,  wondering if there will never be a reckoning for pain.  We can know with assurance that there will be a day when accounts are settled, and all is set right.  God gives us just a tiny snapshot of this in this passage. 

I will say I am NO theologian or teacher.  I have never been to seminary.  I am just a layperson, a saint trying to follow God.  But I know this: God uses His word to speak to His people, and He will never contradict His word.  And what I see here are both the principle of God's sovereignty in our lives, along with the call and the assurance that our ACTIONS have ETERNAL significance.   When we read the story in Acts 12, we see God's judgement of Herod as well as His deliverance of Peter.  There are no petititions or prayers for judgement noted in the text; just God sovereignly acting.  So we can also trust that we don't have to be anxious in our prayers, thinking that if we forget to pray about something, that God will forget to take care of it.  Nope.  We should pray fervently and always for all things, but not anxiously or because we are trying to take control of the fate of the universe, as if we ourselves were God. When we pray, let us pray trusting God, and anticipating the great and mighty things He will STILL do for His people, to bring HIM glory.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ramblings in Acts

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men."
-Acts 5:27-29 

Well, I have begun working my way through Acts, and this was the passage that really grabbed my attention the other day. And even though it's not rocket science, I think it bears repeating:  if you have to choose between obeying God or obeying men, pick God.  Every. single. Time.  Just be sure it's God you're following, and not your own fleshly desires.  

That is what I have been thinking on this week.  It is of the utmost importance in my walk with God that I hear FROM HIM about what He wants from me and for my life, and that I not just take my cues from others around me.  
In this passage, we see Peter addressing the Jewish religious leaders.  These were respected members of the community, and leaders in the synagogue.  If Peter had had anything less than a definitive, divine encounter with God, I think it would have been nearly impossible for him to stand against them in what they were telling him to do.  The Peter we see in the gospels, who denied Christ 3 times, would have cowered under the pressure. But that Peter was gone, and we see here guys that are so rooted and grounded in Christ that nothing will sway them from the Great Commission.  Jesus said to preach the gospel, and they are preaching it.  Whether it is a convenient message or not. Whether it makes religious people comfortable or not.   The message of Christ will not be compromised.

At the same time, they are firm and resolute, but they are NOT meanspirited.  I see here humble men who are obedient to Christ, but not out for personal gain or wordly influence.  Today I was reading in Acts 8 about Simon the Sorcerer, who asked if he could buy the ability to lay hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit.  Peter's response in Acts 8:20-21 is unflinching:

But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!  You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God...."

So how am I sure it's God I am following?  Well, the biggest thing I see is the most helpful: God has given me His Word, aka the Bible.  The more I read and study His word, the easier it will be for me to recognize when he is truly speaking to me.  I don't believe there is anything God is going to speak to me that is going to compromise His word.  And secondly, I am going to continue to PRAY and to ASK for HELP.   Because I know the word, I know it also says in James that we can get more wisdom if we ask for it.  It says in James 1:2-8:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.   For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

In other words, Count your trials joy, because they are going to produce godly fruit of character in your life.  And if you need wisdom, ASK for it.  But ask with an attitude of trusting God.  You have to make up your mind that God is good, and that He is trustworthy ahead of time if you expect God to answer you, I think.  At least that's what I take away from this passage.  

The third way I know I am following God, after these first two, has to do with my heart attitude, I think.  This is something you, again, have to ask God to reveal to you.  When we are choosing to obey God, we should be doing it in an attitude of submission and love for other people, not out of pride.  I ask God to show me my heart pretty often; I have to say, it's one of those prayers that you can't get mad when he shows up and DOES IT.  I am pretty sure everyone has areas of their heart that aren't pretty---that are under renovation, so to speak.  Or atleast they ought to be, if they are not.  So God will always have something to show us where we can improve in our attitudes, or sin that we should repent of and has no place in our life.   But hopefully, when we face an area of life where we feel we must choose between serving God or man, we will find that our heart in that area is right before God and our attitude toward those we view as opponents of God is right as well.  We are called to love our enemies, even if we have to confront them with difficult truth.

The last passage which really spoke to me this week is the first part of Acts 8, verses 1-4, immediately following the passage discussing Stephen's martyrdom:

Now Saul was consenting to his death.
At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 
 I love what it's saying here:  that the horrible event of persecution was ultimately the way God used to spread the gospel.  It was not an accident.  God only allows that kind of pain when he has a greater purpose in mind.  I am seeing that more and more.  None of our pain is wasted in God's economy, if we consecrate it to Him; ultimately, we WILL have the final victory in Him.  I find great encouragement in that fact.

Anyways, that's what running around in my brain this week that I thought I would share.  I'm still working through my life goals/manifesto, but have nothing more to share with that right now.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Manifesto, Part II: Working through Boundaries

"...You're an overcomer
Stay in the fight ‘til the final round
You're not going under
‘Cause God is holding you right now
You might be down for a moment
Feeling like it's hopeless
That's when He reminds You
That you're an overcomer
You're an overcomer

Everybody's been down
Hit the bottom, hit the ground
Oh, you're not alone
Just take a breath, don't forget
Hang on to His promises
He wants You to know

The same Man, the Great I am
The one who overcame death
Is living inside of You
So just hold tight, fix your eyes
On the one who holds your life
There's nothing He can't do
He's telling You...." -Mandisa, Overcomer

Well, today I finished up my quiet time study in the gospels.  Tomorrow I will start Acts.  I have been frustrated the last two weeks, because it seems I have been moving backwards instead of forwards, spiritually.  I have not been diligent in my study of the Word these last two weeks, and I have wasted more time than I should have just reading things on the internet of no consequence.  I guess it's hilarious that I wrote that post on a media diet, then binged myself on less than excellent time wasters.  I have never pretended to be someone who has mastered all this stuff, though, in my defense.  I have only ever tried to share my journey with others, and I am as much learning and growing as anyone.  

So two days ago, I sat down and made a list of boundaries for myself with regards to how I spend my time online and with electronic devices.  I prefer to use the word "boundaries" over rules, because it has the connotation to me of limits that are to help me, rather than just more rules to hold me back. (That is just how the word "rules" feels to me; it's a personal hang up, I freely admit.  I suppose it just shows how far I have to go with regards to humbling myself in accepting rightful submission, even for my good in certain situations. But I digress.)  Anyway, I talked to my kids, came up with penalties of losing devices for two days, and have humbly asked for my children to help me by calling me out if I cross the boundaries I have set for myself.  All of this, actually goes back to my manifesto.  Here is the beginning of my manifesto, or creed, if you will:  
To live my life in such a way as will bring glory to my Father in Heaven, and that I would reach the end of my life and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”; that by observing my life, those around me would be able to testify that the grace of God was made manifest to them; that I would be faithful with the ministries God has given me, and a good stewards of the talents and gifts the Lord has bestowed upon me, to the service of the Kingdom of God; that my ministry to others would be authentic and true, and that those most deeply impacted for the good would be those closest to me, as a testimony of the work of God in and through my life.

This is what I want for my life.  And that goal doesn't happen by accident.  I see so clearly how all the little decisions we make eventually add up to the big picture.  I can talk all day about writing a novel, and having a vision for a godly legacy for my family, but in the end the actions I make each day are going to determine if I ever grow into the kind of person that I want to be.  So anyways, here is where I am at today.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On a Healthy Media Diet

Today, I was thinking about the diet that we Americans feast upon.  I'm sure many people read the word diet and immediately think of food and the current obesity epidemic in this country, but actually I'm not talking about food.  I'm talking about media, books, and entertainment.  And diet is a loaded word that has lots of connotations, so let me clarify how I mean it when I use the word "diet":

"diet:  (noun)3. Something used, enjoyed, or provided regularly: subsisted on a diet of detective novels during his vacation." (from  website )

In other words, when I use the word diet I am talking about the definition that entails how we regularly consume something, in this case books, media, and entertainment.  And I say this with disdain toward myself, as often I am the chief of sinners.  And even though I am not talking about food, I am going to use the food analogy to make my point.  

I have recently discovered, thanks to my eldest daughter's fantastic baking skills, that I LOVE chocolate chip cookie dough fudge.  I am seriously not joking. The stuff is like candy crack, it is so delicious.  My flesh would love nothing more than to sit down with the whole container she made and just inhale it all.  Now, my mind and spirit recognize this is not wisdom, so I do my best to refrain from said behavior.  But still, just having that stuff sitting in our fridge is totally the best form of torture.  Don't judge me.  I'm broken, and I recognize it.  I'm a work in progress.  Anyway, my point is not to degrade chocolate chip cookie dough fudge.  In small amounts, here and there, it's fine.  It's a pleasure that I highly endorse.  But in large amounts, it is something that could have the power to destroy my health.  And that is where I think I am sometimes, and truthfully where we are as a culture.  We are gorging ourselves on "cookie dough fudge" media, or sometimes worse,  and wondering why our country is on the decline.  

Just take a look at top books, even in Christian circles.  I recently looked at the books for sale in the Christian media catalog I got in the mail.  Books with titles like "Your Best Life Now."  I am not saying that any particular author is bad, or that that book is bad.  I'm not even at this point addressing the CONTENT of the books; it was just so many of the TITLES that drew my attention. I'm not trying to debate the merits of one preacher over another.  I am saying that most of the titles sounded more focused on pleasing ourselves,  and less focused on pleasing God.  I don't fault the authors or publishers for this, either; honestly, they are just putting out there what they think will sell.  And self-love is what sells.  No matter what the book is really about, if you put a spin on it to make people think it is all about them, then they will be more likely to buy it.    

Secular circles are certainly not better.  I turn on the tv, and sometimes I am appalled by what passes for entertainment.  Not because it's vulgar or crass; sometimes that is the case, I admit.  But not always.  I just sometimes wonder at how dumbed down much of it is.  Does that mean I never watch it, or read it?  No, I admitted at the beginning of this spiel that I am one of the guilty.  But that doesn't make it right.  For example, I admit it: I love the twilight saga.   (Pretty sure a bunch of people just took me off any spiritual pedestal with that admission, but I am being honest and real here.)  I enjoy it, and I have no conviction that I am sinning by doing so.  However, I do think that making this book the high point of my reading experience is not healthy.  It's junk food reading.  When I fill my mind with books like this one, but don't allow time to read books that require my brain to actually work and think harder, I am doing no one but myself a true disservice.

One of my favorite homeschooling role models of the past, Charlotte Mason, had a word for dumbed down books; she called them "twaddle."  That is what comes to mind when I consider the media culture of today.  I recognize that our culture is not the first in world history to become enraptured with baser entertainments; the Ancient Roman appetite for the gladiatorial games immediately comes to mind.  And in the case of that example, I can see also that some of our entertainments may be WORSE than just cookie dough fudge, for I see nothing in gladiatorial games that had ANY redemptive value whatsoever, and much that was just plain evil.  My main point, however,  is that cultures tend to swing on pendulums.  And the direction we are headed in is not one that I endorse, atleast when my reason is operational.  The truth of the matter is that a steady diet of "garbage in" will only produce "garbage out."   Sometimes, it can be another issue entirely, though, to adhere by my higher thinking, when the tempation to indulge in crass entertainment is akin to staring at a traffic accident as one drives by.  While part of me is appalled, the other part is so shocked and consumed by curiosity the temptation to peer at the carnage is almost impossible to resist.  

It's not even that there is a little of it; if there were, it would not consume us or overwhelm us.  But the diet of cookie dough media is EVERYWHERE.  Why read a great book when you can tune into American idol?  Why sit down and read your Bible when you can read a devotional book that makes you feel good, while keeping your brain off any greater theology?  Why think through an issue when you can watch a soundbite and be handed your opinion by some talking newshead, who twists the truth to suit whatever agenda pleases the broadcast network?  Again, it's not that any of these things are all BAD; they are just not things that require any DISCIPLINE in our thinking.   They don't require us to sit down and mull over great ideas or great thoughts.  We are spoon fed and bottle fed and told not to mess our pants about whatever the current presidential administration or Congress is doing; we are told we are ENTITLED to things, and to trust the higher authority to take care of us.  And we whine a little, complain about the unfairness of it all, and then go back to our bottles and diapers.  

I have to admit,  for all the injustice and problems of our past as a nation, there is one thing that I am jealous of people who lived in this country over a century ago: their lack of media.  I do not think people today are any more evil than people in the past; I do think that the temptation is just so much greater, because it is EVERYWHERE you look.  

Some people will read this as a cry for more federal government regulation of the media, but I think that is the worst possible answer.  I may struggle in my diet of media, but even I have read Farenheit 451  and 1984.  Government is made up of the same group of people who can't control themselves; why would we think they would do a better job regulating us than we do ourselves?  What I am calling for here is more SELF regulation.  

What we need as a culture is for individuals to take a long, hard look at the diet upon which they feed their minds---not the bits and pieces but the whole.  And just like with food, any changes that are meaningful have to be LIFESTYLE changes, not changes based on fads or feelings.  We have to examine our lives as individuals, and make the choice to think through our media choices, and make decisions based on what will help us grow individually, and as a nation. And honestly, the only way I see to overcome the flesh is through crucifixion of it.  And we need the power of God at work in our lives to be able to do even that.   While a little "junk food" media here and there is not going to kill anybody, a lifestyle of baseless media entertainment is something with the power to destroy our whole way of life, I believe. The other insanely revolutionary idea is that we sometimes even choose to STOP all the background noise, and to TURN IT OFF.   That's right.  You heard me correctly.  How crazy would it be if sometimes we allowed ourselves to BE STILL and QUIET?  I know that it's going to be pretty hard for God to ever speak to me if I am always tuned in to someone ELSE talking.  

 And as always, change starts with individuals.  Or as the famous philosopher of our age, Michael Jackson, said, "The man in the mirror." lol So I guess the changes should start with me.  

Here's to a little more C.S. Lewis and a little less whatever preacher is the flavor of the month, unless that preaching requires me to open my Bible and truly meditate on God's word in a deeper, meaningful way.   A little more Pride and Prejudice and a little less Gray's Anatomy.  A little more Bach and a little less American Idol.  A little bit more Puritanical thinking about where true joy is found, and a little bit less me-centered living.  Maybe even sometimes when we give ourselves a chance to view NOTHING at all, so that our minds could actually meditate on some of those great ideas we took the time to read and savor.   I'm not advocating for the destruction of cookie dough fudge; just that we partake of it in smaller doses, and that our subsistence is more on HIM, and the great ideas and books that can change us and make us better, enriched people. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

John 16

Today for my devotion time, my Bible reading was in John 16.  These were the passages today that stood out to me:
“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.  They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.  And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.  But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them." -John 16:1-3

 "Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.  A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.  Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you."  -John 16: 20-22

I love both of these passages.  The first one challenged me to consider how people can do horrible things to each other, and be convinced in their own minds that they are acting in a way that will please God.  Thinking on this, one of the first groups that came to mind was the group of militant Islamic extremists, who view it as holy and just to kill infidels.  I know they are not the only ones in history who have done this, but they are definitely an example of people in our time.  I also see how in the history of the church, there have been many cases where one group has killed another for heresy.  All of this is so sad to me, but it encourages me to read here that Jesus warns his people this is to be expected.  It also serves as a warning for humility on my part, and to be very careful not to speak for God unless I am 100% certain he has told me to, AND that it lines up with who He is and what He says in scripture.  I must look at the context of scriptures as well, and always ask the Holy Spirit to help lead and guide me in truth.  

The second passage tells me that even though there is much suffering in this life, that it is not suffering without purpose or end.  A woman giving birth endures a whole lot of pain, but the end of that pain is a beautiful baby.  At that moment, the pain fades from memory and what becomes central is the joy she feels as she holds her child in her arms for the first time.  At that moment, she is actually GLAD for the pain, since it brought her to that moment of joy.  Jesus is saying here that we must trust him to redeem the pain, and that there will come a day when our joy is complete.  As he was talking to the disciples, I think much of that has been fulfilled through his death and resurrection.  While the audience he spoke to in that moment didn't understand his words, those of us who follow Him now most assuredly do.  So while they could only see their suffering as an end, we can view all suffering as a beginning.  All of creation looks forward to the day when Jesus returns, and will make all things new.  And what a wonderful day that will be! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

I walk by faith, and not by sight....

"I was in need and I needed a friend
I was alone and I needed a hand
I was going down but someone rescued me....
I walk by faith and not by sight
If things go wrong, it'll be alright
Cause someone greater is watching over me
My God cares too much to say
His mercies are new everyday
I get down to pray and then help is on its way....."
-Hillsong, Friends in High Places

The medical bills are coming in.  Joe is still home due to the shutdown of the government.   And I am a Dave Ramsey fan, who likes to make all the numbers add up.  But that worship song has been going through my mind today.  Today, in our family Bible time, the kids and I read in Numbers 20:1-12:
Then the children of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the Wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there and was buried there.  Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and Aaron.  And the people contended with Moses and spoke, saying: “If only we had died when our brethren died before the Lord Why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here?  And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink.”  So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and they fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,  “Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.”   So Moses took the rod from before the Lord as He commanded him.
 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?”   Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”
Time after time, given the opportunity to trust God, the Jewish people we read about in the Old Testament instead chose to worry, murmur and complain against Him.  They would even choose to paint their slavery in Egypt as a desirable, wonderful place in comparison to the place they were in.  Time after Time, God met their needs.  Not only that, but he was actually taking them to a BETTER place.  It's just the journey there was challenging, and full of opportunities to trust Him and to grow in their relationship with Him.  Often, opportunities to trust God are disguised as trials and tribulations.  And all of humanity has the same tendency to respond in fear instead of faith.  

The other thing I see here is that obedience MATTERS.  God told Moses exactly how he wanted him to bring the water forth, and Moses deviated from that.  Even Moses messed up sometimes.  It's a real temptation when we think we see an easy solution to a problem, to just do whatever is expedient and seems right to US.  But when God gives us instructions about something, he wants his people to listen carefully and take his instructions seriously. 

In my quiet time today, I read John 10 and 11.  Within those chapters is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  And Lazarus wasn't just a little dead; he had been in the tomb for FOUR days.  He SMELLED of death.  It's hard to contest a resurrection like that one.  Here are the verses that jumped out at me today, though, in John 11:5-6:

  "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he [Lazarus] was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was."

Did you catch that?  It was precisely BECAUSE Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, that  He DELAYED coming to his aid for two extra days!  In other words, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing.  He knew that Lazarus was going to die, but that was okay because he knew the end from the beginning, and he knew what a testimony it was going to be when he raised him from the dead.  And he knew what a faith building thing it would be for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus if they experienced not just his healing power, but his RESURRECTING power.  

Now I don't think it's a coincidence that these were the scriptures God brought to me today.  I see a whole picture here.  It's the picture of an unchanging, sovereign God, who knows the end from the beginning.  And even the pain he allows in my life has purpose.  Nothing is wasted, and I can trust if he allows it in my life, he has a plan for it and he's going to use it for MY GOOD and HIS GLORY.  

Now, I have the freedom in that to choose my response in the moments that I can't understand the plan.  Will I be like the children of Israel, who murmured, complained, and judged God unfairly?  Or will I rejoice in my tribulation, not that I enjoy pain, but because I know God is faithful and he is going to bring me THROUGH them, not abandon me IN THEM?  The second kind of person is the one I want to be, though I often fall squarely into the first camp of fearful Pharisees.  Yuck.  

The other encouraging thing to me was Jesus' response to Mary and Martha's mourning; he wept.  That tells me that it is healthy and normal to cry when we hurt, and even though Jesus knew what was going to happen, he still identified with Mary and Martha's pain.  It's not a response of unbelief to cry or to mourn.  God doesn't expect his people to act like robots when they are going through painful trials.  I am thankful for that as well.  

So it's not that revolutionary, but this was the word the Lord gave me today:  to bear up under the weight of suffering, trusting that He has a good purpose and plan, and that my deliverer is going to meet my needs in his time, and he will do it in the way of HIS choosing, and not my own.  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

To the Hat Lady at the Athens Fiddlers Convention

 For the second time, our family attended the Athens Alabama Fiddlers Convention.  Our church usually has a booth, where we offer counseling resource books and just share the gospel or talk with people that stop.  So while Joe, Kate, and several of our other kids helped at the booth, Joseph and I pushed Naomi in the stroller and walked through the craft booths.  He was looking for something he would enjoy to own for the $8 he had saved for such an occasion.  The fact that Joe is a part of the current government shutdown, coupled with the medical bills we have had this year, meant that there was not really a lot extra to be spent today that we could add to the kids' funds.  However, we still looked forward to a fun day, and Joseph was eager to find the perfect thing to buy.  I know sometimes people take notice of  the NG tube taped onto his cheek, even if I don't notice it much myself.  One vendor, a kind man, asked us about it.  We had a conversation about it, I explained about Joseph's Crohn's disease and what that was, Joseph chimed in as well, and we continued along.

That was when he saw your booth.  Several shelves of hats beckoned, and Joseph couldn't resist their lure.  Indiana Jones or  Crocodile dundee, shelves upon shelves of brown and black trilby and fedoras, outback hats, all sizes.  You didn't know that my son LOVES fedoras so much, he asked for one for Christmas last year.  But at just the sight of those hats, he was hopeful to add to his collection of one.   I'm sure you had to be aware that my son had some sort of health issues because of the NG tube, but you only smiled at him when he asked how much the hats were going to cost.  I admit that I was already pretty certain they would not be in his price range.  And even though I was tempted to get him one any way, I have no idea how long this government shutdown thing will last, so buying a hat for my son was not in the cards today.   You told us they were nearly 50 dollars, and my son told you how nice they were, but he only had 8 dollars.   I clasped my arm around him to leave, but you stopped him.  Then you smiled at him.  You grabbed a hat from the top shelf and put it on his head, and talked to him about how to care for a hat like this, that it could drip dry if wet.  That it could be crushed and retain its shape.  That this hat would last for 10 years if he took care of it.  And then you nearly made me cry, when you told my son you wanted him to have it.

My son was so excited.  He offered you all the money he had, and you didn't want it.  He asked for your website, and you gave him your address.  I believe he fully intends to write you, and become your penpal.   I know there was NO reason or obligation that would ever require you to give my son a hat.  You had no idea of the struggles Joseph has dealt with this past year--the tests, the medicines, the procedures, and just the day to day pain.  But your small act of kindness has brought me to tears.  You put such a large smile on my son's face today, and for that I will always be thankful to you, a total stranger.  I wish you could have seen him afterward, and all the way home.  He was so proud of that hat; and he talked for a while of what he would want to say to you when he writes you. 

You told my son you were sometimes called the Hat lady.  But I am pretty sure that today, you were the face and hands of Jesus himself.   It's funny that I went to the Fiddler's convention today, just for a fun day, but praying that our church would be a blessing to others.  And then out of nowhere, God  displayed his love to me, and to Joseph, in your act of kindness.  And for that I am saying thank you. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Thankful List

Well, with the government shutdown starting, and the medical bills that have yet to come in for all of Joseph's expensive meds and treatments, and the fact that I am not seeing us gaining ground with regards to saving money lately,  it is a great temptation to me today to panic and worry.  I see very clearly what a fleshly, sinful response that is.  God has always been faithful to me; I must trust him now, when the path ahead is unclear.  I always have this illusion that at some point, we are going to have enough money or such a peaceful life that I will not be tempted to worry.  Ha!  What a crazy idea.  Worrying is a bad habit that never helps.  It's like rocking in a rocking chair, I have heard --- you make lots of motion, but you don't get anywhere.

To combat worry and fear,  I have decided to post a list of things I am thankful for, so that in the next few days I can reread it myself and hopefully stave off any worry or fears for the future.  So without further adieu, here is my Thankful List:

1.  I have a God who loves me so much that he spared nothing valuable to have a relationship with me. 

2.  I have the Holy Spirit living INSIDE me to guide me and teach me, and to continually draw my wandering heart back to him. 

3.  I have the Bible accessible to me in a country where I have the freedom to openly own it and read it.  I know how to read, and I have the access to multiple copies of it both online, in print, and even on my nook color and smartphone.  There is never a time when it is not available to me.

4.  I have a church family that spans more than just the family we know here in Huntsville, but as far away as China we have friends that are praying for our family and love us, as we love them.  These giving people open their homes and lives to our family, have fed us, cared for our children, and held us accountable to press forward to the high callings in Christ.  I could make a whole list of people that I know have been a part of God's blessings toward us and it would make a web page all its own, but suffice it to say New Life Baptist, Sovereign Grace Fredericksburg, New Life Ministries, Trinity Assembly, Grace Church, the former BSU at Tech, Campus Crusade ---all of these have blessed and worked in our marriage and lives. 

5.  I have a wonderful, godly husband who cares for me, and always strives to lead our family ever closer to God and to provide for us financially.  He takes me out on dates, he cooks dinners, he mows the grass, he is faithful to me, and he prays for me and the kids. 

6.  I have six beautiful, awesome children here on earth, and one in heaven. 

7.  Joseph's illness is not terminal.  His life span will be like anyone else's.  The trials that he faces, difficult though they have been, have only served to grow him in courage and compassion.  I have faith that his walk with the Lord is going to be a story of incredible passion and miraculous abundance.

8.  My oldest daughter has a heart for missions, and the people of Haiti.  She is a joy to our family, and my right hand woman.  She is helpful, joyful, and exhuberant at times.  I see her growing so much in her walk with the Lord, and I know God is doing great and mighty things in her life, and through her. 

9.  Rebekah accepted Christ this past summer, and she too is a joy and blessing.  In fact, let me just stop here and say what a joy all of my children are.  I could never imagine my life without them, and the love and the light they bring to my heart.

10.  I have a great relationship with my in laws, and enjoy so much spending time with Joe's family as equally as my own.  I know not everyone has this kind of relationship with their in laws, so I am very thankful for this blessing.

11.  I have the privilege of staying home and homeschooling our children.  Yes, many days it is difficult and I doubt my ability and God's provision, but God has always managed to meet our kids' needs through either myself, Joe, or providing a tutor in areas where I feel less qualified.  I recognize not everyone gets to experience this blessing, and I am thankful that I am one who does get to.  I am thankful, too, that I live in a country where I still have the freedom to homeschool without much fear of government persecution. 

12.  The vacation I just went on is more proof of God's love for me as well.  I had wanted desperately to go to the beach this year, but did not think we could afford it due to medical bills and the previous furlough.  My mother had no idea I had been praying to God about it, but of her own volition she arranged to rent the house to take us all there, and then my mother-in-law pitched in as well.  We brought all our food, so our only meals out were fast food on the way, and the cost of kenneling our dog.  The house was beautiful, as was the beach, and it was a wonderful time away, but actually did not cost us very much at all because of mom's and Meme's generosity. 

13.  Even with the shutdown, Joe still has a job where he gets paid fairly well.  And I am confident, if he were to lose that job, God would open other doors of provision for us.  We do not look to Obama or Congress to provide for us, but our sovereign, almighty God.

14.  I woke up this morning, breathing in clean air, in a fairly healthy body, and I walked around thus far today all under my own power.  I do not need a wheelchair to walk, and I even have both hands and feet that work properly. 

15.  We have a beautiful home, with a wonderful backyard, and wonderful neighbors.  Also, we got it for a great price, so even though it is a bigger house than we owned in King George, our house payment is no more money than we paid there for a house that was half the size and half the amount of land. 

16.  We have all kinds of food in our kitchen.  Never have my children wondered if there would be food available to eat at their next meal.  Never have they wondered if they would have clothes to wear or any other necessity of life available to them when they needed it. 

17.  Two words:  Air conditioning.

18.  I own three bookshelves of books, besides what is in our garage we rotate through, as well as access to wonderful public libraries.  There is no reason why I should ever suffer with want of entertainment or learning, so long as these wonderful institutions are accessible to me.

I could go on and on and on about all the wonderful ways I am blessed.  I would love it if others wish to add to the list.  What are you thankful for today?  What are you taking for granted?  I am hoping this list will serve to stimulate others to make their own lists of thankfulness, and to not forget the things and people God has blessed them with. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Manifesto, Part I: The reasons

"A manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government. A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or public consensus and/or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made. It often is political or artistic in nature, but may present an individual's life stance. Manifestos relating to religious beliefs are generally referred to as creeds." -from Wikipedia (

One of my favorite of places to be is the beach, which is where I just returned from on a family vacation.  I especially love it when I am able to go, and the beach is not crowded.  And that is precisely how it was as we traveled this past weekend to St. George Island.  Of course, I love any chance our family has to take a vacation, but not all vacations are restful.  For example,take a vacation to DisneyWorld.  That is a FUN vacation, but with six kids and extended family, it's not usually a vacation we come back from well rested.

However, at this vacation, we s l o w e d down.  We stayed in a house, and ate all of our meals there.  The beach was a short walk away.  By necessity, right now, this was the only kind of vacation Joseph could have handled.  It meant that when he felt poorly, he could rest on the couch, and then in the afternoon, if he felt better, he could venture out.  We had our own private pool off the house, so it felt like we were in our own private bubble.  I'm not sure I have ever had a vacation this laid back, or slow paced.  Honestly, it was perfect. 

There was hardly another soul on the beach, and truly it was a place of peace and relaxation.  I love to just pack a chair, sit with sand squishing between my toes and the breeze in my face, and watch God show out.  And He always does. This time around, Joe and the kids had rays swimming around them in the water.  Then, there were dolpins.  A fish jumped out of the water doing acrobatics.  God was totally showing out.

 For me, it's places like that that really remind me of how big and awesome my God truly is.  If I truly serve a God who created the great white shark (though, thankfully, I didn't see any of those on vacation, lol), who tends to the seabirds and sets the times of the tide; if this same God truly loves me and cares for me enough that He withheld not even his beloved son from the pain of crucifixion; then whom or what should I fear?

The answer seems simple, sitting on the beach.

Maybe it's also just all the events of the past year, but I felt more aware of the moments passing this time around.  I can't say that being aware means I never waste moments, or that I now have some magical self discipline that causes me to always make the wisest decisions of how I spend my moments, but maybe I am growing in this, atleast.  Because I see how easy it is to let all the moments just slip away.  Life truly is a vapor, just like the grass.  It blooms and withers in the span of a few heartbeats.  And it's so easy to get caught up in reacting to life, instead of acting UPON it decisively.

All of the moments of life that we have seem so innocuous, so insignificant.  What does it matter if I go on facebook an hour or even thirty minutes a day, or watch tv a couple hours at night?  What's the big deal if I sleep in most days, instead of pushing myself to get a little exercise regularly, or read my Bible?  What's the big deal if I grab a bag of chips for a snack instead of something more healthy?  What is the big deal if I choose to keep my kids busy all the time with activities, and we never have time for family worship or just to eat dinner together?  What does it matter if I'm too busy to give my husband the best of myself, and instead all he gets is the leftovers of my time or attention?

Don't get me wrong.  I am not saying we should all make a bunch of crazy rules about this stuff.  Legalism stinks.  And there are times a little indulgence in something like junk food or sleeping in is perfectly fine, and maybe even necessary for sanity. I also recognize that life is about seasons, and there are times that it is easier to slow down, and other times we may be very busy, and we are doing EXACTLY what we have been called to do in that season of life.   But the whole of life is composed of moments, and I can't get them back once they are spent.   I was thinking this weekend about how moments add up to make habits sometimes, and habits add up to form character, and then before you know it, you have a destiny.  It all flows together; it's just easy sometimes not to intentional about it, and wonder how we end up where we are.

So today in the car driving home, I had hours to think about this.  It all rolled around inside my head, and the word that came to me was MANIFESTO.  Honestly, I had to look up the word, to see what it meant, because I have some negative connotations with the word, thanks to Karl Marx.  But actually, it was exactly the word I wanted  for what I need:  a Manifesto of my life.

I have all sorts of bad habits, and not because I do them a little.  I do them A LOT; otherwise, they wouldn't be habits, now would they? lol I like to stay up late, sleep late, I don't discipline myself to be in my Bible in any set way (I am IN my Bible, but it's just not a planned, consistent routine for me.  I'm more like a BINGE eater of God's word.  A few days off, then a couple hours of noshing.  lol )  Working out is hit or miss, and something I LOATHE.  And alot of the motivation for changing these habits is nonexistent because I don't have a great WHY for why I should change.  It's just not there.  It's like I'm 38 years old, and I'm still trying to figure out what God has created for me to do and be that fits the unique gifts and talents that I have.  I would have thought I would know a little more by this point in life, but oh well. 

If I ever want to be used by God in any significant way, I will have to be disciplined enough to develop some good habits.  And all of the discipline, I think, begins with the idea of the why....the manifesto, so to speak.  I don't think it means that success would be guaranteed, but it would give me sustainability in the face of difficulties.  It means having a WRITTEN vision or goal; a destination in mind that guides me through the uncharted waters of change, and all the moments I am living.  It would give me a way to filter out, to sift and make decisions.  The Bible speaks of this, I think, in some measure in Habakkuk 2: 2-3:

Then the Lord answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it. 
 For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry."

Now, I know this passage is referring to the vision God gave a prophet, not just someone's goals or personal visions.  But the point I see here is, there is a benefit to writing things down, that getting our thoughts out on paper, or tablets even, lol clarifies things.  It makes them "plain." It simplifies things.  And in this day and age of all the noise and background busyness, who couldn't use a little simplicity and clarification to what is important and how all those moments are best to be spent?  

Ultimately, it all comes down to stewardship, doesn't it?   

 My plan is over the next few weeks to develop a manifesto for my life.  To think through the WHYs, so maybe the HOWS will become a little more doable.   To pull out my heart, prayerfully examine it, ask God to show me what I need to see to please Him more.  

Because I'm sick of busyness without purpose.  I'm sick of doing "everything" only to find I am doing nothing well.   I'm scared to death now, not of making a mistake or failing at something I try, but of never trying anything worthwhile at all.  Of filling my mind and time with useless things, only to find out when it's too late how useless and worthless those things really were.  That, my friends, is something to fear.  Of taking this one chance I have to live  a life with purpose and blowing it because I'm consumed by my own selfish vanity.  Yuck.  No thanks.  

There has been way too much dross in my life, and not nearly enough gold.  I recognize I can't change myself, but I can be mallable in his hands.  I can allow HIM to change me.  So that's my plan.  If I can do nothing else, the least I can do is get myself yielded into a position where there is atleast a HOPE that HE will do some transformation.  And I need it.  I need it bad, folks.  I covet prayers, right now.  Change is always painful, but so is not changing.   

Monday, September 23, 2013

Waking Up

(Credit to Stan Lee or whoever it was did this movie.  No copyright infringement intended.)

I've been thinking today about the scenes in the first spiderman movie with Tobey Macguire after he is bitten by the radioactive spider and his powers start manifesting.  And it's freaking him out, but he also thinks it's cool.  That's how I have been feeling lately.  I am no superhero, obviously, but lately it's like a switch has been turned on in my brain, and I can't seem to stop the words needing to come out onto "paper", or in this case blogging, or journaling on my computer.  It's like this part of my brain has been mostly dormant for years and years, and now suddenly it's awake in a way it NEVER was, even in high school.  That's not to say the things coming out are that remarkable; it's just I almost forgot this part of me even existed.  Now several times a day I have these thoughts I feel this compulsion to get down somewhere, to excise them from my brain a little. It's like I've been asleep for years, and this part of me is waking up. And I think it's tied in with the things the Lord has been showing me in my quiet times and the times I've spent being mentored by a wonderful, older, godly woman from my church.  I don't even know if I'm making sense.  But that's okay.  

The Tobey Macguire Spiderman movies were some of my favorites.  I love some of the themes running through them--the idea that "With great power comes great responsibility", and the way that the character of Peter Parker develops from an inexperienced, somewhat selfish individual to someone who develops a great ability to sacrifice and give of himself for the greater good and for those he loves.   I also love how he learns through the movies that walking this journey of life is not something we truly do well all alone, that while ultimately we may have to face our biggest challenges dependent on no one but God,  there are times that we need others to encourage us and walk with us, and it's not a weakness to admit that.   I think the thing about most great superheroes in the comics, as well as most fictional characters we grow to love,  is that we identify with them in their flaws and their struggles, and something about their journey calls to us to become more than we are at this moment.   

Alot of the Christian journey seems to me to parallel the journey of true heroism that calls to us in these movies.   In the beginning, we are all bumbling and inept.  We recognize our own inadequacy, and we long for a hero to rescue us, because we deeply recognize our need to be rescued.  The difference in Jesus and the heroes of our making is that Jesus was sinless and perfect.  No flaw was found in him.  It's hard for us to fathom that.  It's even harder to identify with sometimes.  So most movie heroes don't truly parallel Christ, but often are more about our own journeys as flawed individuals attempting to understand truth and justice in a world where the culture often scoffs at moral absolutes.  Somehow, though, our hearts recognize there must be some sort of moral absolutes, something solid to grasp and hold onto.  Otherwise, how could we even identify if someone was acting heroically or not?  The beautiful thing is that while we could never be good or truly heroes within our own strength,  when we come to Christ he puts a new spirit in us and transforms us to reflect the glory of God and to represent Him, heroically to the world.

I will confess right now that sometimes I am an emotional coward.  I struggle with caring more about people's opinions of me than I do loving them well regardless of what they think of me.  Sometimes, I feel God is counting down my life to this ultimate moment when I will (hopefully) be truly prepared to be rejected by people as I am truly loving God and them the most that I ever have.  I am never sure if it will be the religious crowd rejecting me, those outside the church, or both, or if that moment will never come at all.  It is my deepest longing to please God in this way, and my deepest fear that when the time comes, I may fail the test.  I take hope that God is the one who will finish what he started, so as long as I keep submitting to his authority, learning and growing, he has the rest covered.  My part is such a little piece of the puzzle. 

Waking Up in any area of life can be a difficult thing.  When you've been stumbling around in the dark in some area, and God flips the switch and reveals to you the depths of your sin or insecurities, or just that reality isn't quite what you thought it was, we should rejoice that God is doing something in our lives and that he wants more for us than a dull, lifeless, insipid reality that is more delusion than truth.  I think the dangerous thing, when God begins to work in your life in a new area is to become prideful and to assume that you have this corner market on truth that no one else could possibly have.  When we have that idea, it's serious RED FLAG to stop and humble ourselves and pray.   Sometimes I think that's why newly converted Christians can be dangerous in alienating people--they have all this zeal without the added benefit of any deeper wisdom and knowledge.  

So here's to waking up.  Here's to God opening our eyes to our sin and removing the scales from our eyes that keep us from seeing Him, or ourselves, accurately.  Here's to being awake in a sleeping world, to finally appreciating that the light we have on is not to cause us to judge others who are stumbling in the darkness, but to be like the one TRUE hero, Christ, who calls people to come out of the darkness and embrace His light.  To watch the story unfold as he takes selfish, broken creatures, and forms and shapes them into something new and beautiful.  To hopefully live in such a way that we are not the only ones who are waking up.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Avoiding the Ditch

"...handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already."

~ C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I was thinking today about how there usually seems to be two extremes with regards to many behaviors, and often both are equally bad.  Then there is the middle ground position, which seems to offer the best of both.  For example, with regards to correction and/or criticism, we can live in constant need for the approval of those around us, paralyzing us from making decisions because we base our existence on whether we are counted worthy enough.  Or we can walk around in pride and disdain, saying we don't care what anyone thinks, we don't need other people's approval ever, and we don't need other people to speak into our lives.  Neither one of those is really going to be a healthy thing for growth.  The first is paralyzing and impossible; the second is foolish and arrogant.  

The older I get, the more rare a jewel it seems to me to be to find someone who is both content in their identity in Christ,  and does not look to others to find their self worth, and yet is also able to look at correction as valuable, and to understand it to be true that "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. " (Proverbs 27:6)  In other words, we shouldn't discount every criticism, but we should carefully consider the source and the merit of what someone is saying.  Sometimes the most helpful, loving people in our lives are the people who tell us the things we least want to hear.   It's easy to assume just because someone is supportive of what we are doing, that means they are loving us.  But sometimes, those people are actually just emotional cowards who are enabling us in our sin.  Love may keep no record of wrongs, but how can it hope for the best and believe the best if it never points us in the direction of what the best thing is?  

Another example is the area of legalism/works based salvation vs. lawlessness.  It's like there is a road, with ditch on either side.  And most of us seem to have steering problems, where we tend to veer to either side of the ditch.  Many people seem to live in fear of not doing enough to "earn" their place in heaven, and have this idea if they do enough good things, then maybe the scales will balance in their favor after death, and hopefully the God of the Universe will overlook whatever bad stuff they've done, and let them into paradise anyways.  But if heaven is a place where no evil exists, then it seems ludicrous to think we could hope to get in, if we have done even the smallest thing.  If you have ever stolen, then you are a thief.  Tell a small lie; you're a liar.  If you've lusted after someone who wasn't yours to have, then you've committed adultery in your heart.  How would we expect a perfect, sinless righteous God to overlook even the tiniest infraction against him, and still be considered a righteous judge?  The answer is he couldn't; someone, in some way, should have to pay the penalty for that sin.  This is where the idea of substitutionary atonement comes in.  Jesus, living a perfect, sinless life, did what we could never do for ourselves.  And he willingly took our place, so we could choose to take his in communing with God.  

Now, if I understand the cost of that sacrifice in my life, it will by no means cheapen grace.  It should lead to a desire for holiness, not to earn something I already have, but to take advantage more fully of what Christ has done for me.  If I draw near to God, he will draw near to me.  Drawing near to God means becoming more like him, and loving him and the people around me more fully and deeply than I ever have before.  It means turning away from selfishness, and giving of myself to others.  Doing this out of the love Christ has put in my heart should be a joy, not a burden.  That is where the "narrow way" comes in that Christ is speaking of, when he says in Matthew 7:13-14:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."

The fact of the matter is that works based salvation is no more life giving than lawlessness.  But our pride will tempt us in either direction.  The truly humble heart will serve God out of gratitude, as the least of what might be expected from a servant for his master.  A proud heart will have no master but itself, and unfortunately even the works we do can become a god unto themselves.  

When I think on the pitfalls of faith, it can honestly be quite depressing.  It's no wonder the disciples asked Jesus how ANYONE was able to get to heaven.  Some days that's how I feel.  The human heart is so bent toward destruction, it seems.  Here was Jesus response though, to the disciples' question:

 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”  -Mark 10:27

Apparently, God is even bigger and better than I can imagine.  Which is a pretty good thing.