I Want to Be a Dandelion


Last Sunday, I took a little walk around town after church. Here in the mountains of Colorado, it may be nearly the middle of April, but we’re hesitant to actually call it spring for another month or two. There’s a chance we’ll get a foot of snow this weekend. In some places, wildflowers won’t make their appearance until July. We’re stuck in a sort of seasonal twilight; it is not as cold or snowy as winter, but the plants and animals are not ready to commit to the abundance of spring.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see clusters of dandelions growing up from several cracks in the sidewalk and dotting yards here and there. Dandelions are one of my favorite flowers. They are soft, cheerful, and bright, they are still beautiful and enjoyable after their yellow fades and they turn into puffs made for children’s delight, and there is something about their stubborn, tenacious personality that makes me cheer more for them than for the landscapers who would try to banish them.

As I was admiring the dandelions, it occurred to me that we as Christians should be more like dandelions. These little yellow flowers can teach us a lot about living as children of God. How so?

  • They have strong roots which make them hard to destroy.
  • They can grow anywhere; they don’t need “ideal conditions” to thrive.
  • They are simple and cheerful; they do not need to be flashy or popular.
  • They serve many purposes and fill many needs – they nourish, heal, and encourage.
  • They are resilient – attempts to destroy or discourage them only make them stronger.
  • They spread seeds far and wide; they give of themselves and multiply in the face of strong winds and the changing seasons of life.

So what do you want to be? A beautiful but temperamental and fragile flower like and orchid, or will you be a dandelion?


Somebody’s Baby

Hello again. Last time I wrote, I talked just a little about how having a son has been changing my life. Today I want to share a profound way that my son has changed my perspective.


To start, I have a confession to make, and this is something I’m really not proud of. So here goes. Sometimes when I’m out and about and I encounter a person who is somehow ‘odd’, I get a little uncomfortable. I know intellectually that there is no reason to be, but it’s an occasional gut reaction. And, sadly, I imagine that I’m not the only one who reacts this way.


There’s something about our human nature that reacts poorly to those we perceive as different. It’s the basis for all prejudice, be it racism, sexism, ageism, or any other form of discrimination. To an extent, our snap judgments help us quickly process the myriad of inputs we experience as we go about our lives, so they are useful. But when it comes to people, we need to use our metacognition – our ability to think about our thinking – to reach the truth, not just first impressions.


As I said, I have often found myself confronting these first impressions, and my usual rebuttal to myself is to go through the litany of “You don’t know them or what their condition really is; they’re just as important and valuable as everyone else.” Which is completely true. The problem was, I was addressing a gut reaction with a mental process. Sometimes that works, but often we need an emotional response to an emotional problem. We need something to strongly affect our core in such a way that it changes not only the way we think about things, but also the way we feel about them.


That is exactly what happened to me when my son was born. I remember one of my first forays into the outside world after he was born, I encountered one of the regulars at the store I was visiting, a person who, on first impressions, can make me feel a little uncomfortable, even though I know that I have no reason to be. This time, though, a new thought went through my mind: “He is somebody’s baby.” Just that. Just imagining, for a second, that at one time, he was a tiny, precious newborn, no different from his peers; someone small and helpless and sweet, and just as perfect as every other baby. Someone who was the absolute center of his or her parents’ heart. The moment I realized that, it completely changed the way I look at people. It spread not just to those who make me uncomfortable on first glance, but also to the people who irritate me, the people I am quick to judge.


And then something truly miraculous happened in my heart. I began thinking more and more about this idea of a parent’s love for a baby. I thought about how much I love my son, a love that I couldn’t even begin to imagine before he was born. As I was thinking about it, I realized that God loves my son far more than I love him. That realization has helped me so much in trusting God to care for my son. And then I realized that God loved all those people, the ones I struggle with judging and loving, as much as He loves my son. That was an amazing realization, because it dawned on me that God’s love for humanity is so much more than a kind, general benevolence. I love my son with an indescribably fierce and all-consuming love, and yet God loves him, and by extension everyone, infinitely more than that, because He is infinitely more capable of loving than I am. Wow – that changes the way I look at people when I begin to understand the way God sees them. Mind officially blown.


But then God decided to take the smoldering shreds of my mind and completely destroy my old ways of thinking about one person in particular. The one person I had the most difficulty forgiving, the one I was the quickest and harshest to judge. Myself. It was like God spoke clearly to me and said, “You know how much you love that little baby you’re holding right now? You know how deep, and fierce, and strong that love is, how you are constantly telling him that there is nothing that can change your love for him, that you love him no matter who or what he decides to be? Now, do you remember how you just figured out that my love for everyone is infinitely greater than that? Do you realize that you are one of those people? I love YOU infinitely more than you love your son. You, One-Who-Fails-Daily. And I sent my Son, whom I love even more than you love your son, to die for you. Even though you can’t begin to deserve it, even on your best days.


Very rarely do you get such clear spiritual breakthroughs, and to have three of them cascading all at once left me speechless. To change how I see my community, my child, and then myself, to begin to really appreciate the value God has placed on each of us, to have even a fractional understanding of how great a price He paid to redeem us – this changes everything.


My hope and prayer for you is that you begin to see how treasured you are, and that you look at those around you with a new appreciation of their worth. May God blow your mind too!

Out of Control

Hello again. I know it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me. Just about five months, to be exact.  The last time I posted, I was bemoaning the impossible length of the last weeks of a pregnancy. Well, just days after that post, my pregnancy journey ended and the great adventure of being a mother began. These past four months have been nothing short of amazing. They have also been exhausting, exciting, terrifying, and thrilling, sometimes all in the same moment. Time has flown by, and I cannot believe my tiny little baby is now a chubby, cheerful 4-month-old whose life goal is to sit up alone. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time that he wasn’t a part of our lives. Every day is full of new discoveries, new challenges, and new ways to fall in love with a short, fat, bald guy.


Being a parent, especially a new parent, is a major learning experience. Learning how to care for your child, learning what each cry or expression means, learning how to function normally on 2 hours of sleep. For me, it has been more than that though. While I have learned a great deal about my son, I may have learned even more about myself. God has been using my daily (and nightly) experiences as a mother to teach me about my own shortcomings and strengths.


While I’m learning and growing in many areas (patience, planning, time management, multitasking), the central issue that God is working on with me is control. While I can’t say that I am always in control of things, I certainly like to feel that I am. I am a planner, a list maker, a spreadsheet-thought-organizer. I like to sort, label, and rearrange. When I found out that I was pregnant, I started planning. Planning the nursery, planning how I would feed my son, what kinds of diapers he would wear, how I would get him to sleep through the night, how I would discipline him once he got older. I researched online, read every book I could get my hands on, spent hours sipping tea with my mommy friends picking their brains. I was ready to have control of the parenting situation.


And then I started noticing that I had no control. Actually, I noticed that from the moment my husband and I decided that it was time to start our family. I had absolutely no control over if or when I would get pregnant (even though I had two specific dates in mind that I wanted to have my baby – haha!) I remember those few days testing to see if I was pregnant and feeling panic as I waited for the lines to show up – panic if I was pregnant, and panic if I wasn’t. Then I found out I was indeed pregnant, and I went to the doctor to confirm. I really like my doc, but I didn’t like what she said. I was 5 weeks pregnant at the time, and she wanted me to come back at 10 weeks to “see if it’s actually a viable pregnancy.”


That planted the seed in my mind that I could lose my baby at any time. I knew so many women who had suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects, and my worrying mind started running wild. I asked my sweet husband to reassure me multiple times a day that there was no logical reason to worry. I filled my head with statistics to prove that there was very little chance of anything going wrong with my baby. But it didn’t shake the fear. Every symptom that I had or didn’t have sent me off to the internet to have my doom sealed. I was banned (by my wise husband) from searching those things anymore. And still the anxiety circled me. I knew it was unlikely that something would go wrong, but things do go wrong, and what was there to assure me that I wasn’t one of the 2% of this or 10% of that?


Finally I did some positive web-searching and looked for affirming words for pregnancy. What I found was something even better, something I should have been looking for from the beginning. I found a blog (Grace for Moms) that listed 10 Bible verses specifically addressing fear and worry. I clung to those verses, pulled out my fancy colored markers, and wrote those verses out. I taped them to mirrors, my closet door, and the head of my bed. I said them over and over as I brushed my teeth, changed my clothes, and fell asleep at night. And miracle of miracles, my fears didn’t have control over me anymore. Did they sometimes pop up? I’m embarrassed to say, yes they did, especially the really idiotic ones (such as, will a body part that clearly showed up on the first ultrasound somehow be missing on the second one? Not too proud of that thought process – I’ll blame the hormones!)


As predicted by my husband and statistics, nothing did go wrong with my pregnancy, and I delivered my beautiful, healthy, all-body-parts-accounted-for little boy on one of the two days I had been crossing my fingers for (though I realized that I had absolutely nothing to do with that). But again, in that process, God was teaching me that I have no control. During my pregnancy, I had spent hours studying and practicing the techniques needed to enable a drug-free birth. For me the idea of the natural-ness of a drug-free birth, combined with the safety net of delivering at the hospital seemed ideal. I would labor at home as long as possible, and then go to the hospital only when I felt that I was getting near the actual birth bit of this process. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, and a good ability to use my mind to control pain, and so I thought it would be a piece of cake. Okay, I thought that I could make it, anyway.


The short version of my very long labor and delivery is that after over 48 hours of contractions, I was still untold hours away from being ready to deliver. My doctor suggested, and I agreed, that I should get the epidural anesthesia and a bit of something called Pitocin to help my labor move along a little faster. If I hadn’t received the drugs, I don’t know if I would have had the energy to push the baby out when the time came. It was not the “natural” birth I had hoped for, but I could no longer control the pain. Nor could I control the progress of my labor or the timing of my son’s birth. Almost exactly 24 hours after we arrived at the hospital, I first saw and held my little boy, and the world around me ceased to exist for a moment. I could try, I could use all kinds of descriptive language, but I still could never explain to you what that moment was like. If you’ve had a child, I think you can probably imagine it pretty well.


The next day they sent us home, and God decided that it was time to teach me even more about how little I really could (or needed to) control. Before my son was born, I had pretty clear ideas of how I was going to train him to eat and play and sleep with a careful routine that would minimize any negative impact on my own schedule and productivity. I wasn’t going to be a schedule freak, but I was going to be very regimented, and my baby was going to be very textbook. Yes, yes, I hear all of you who already have children snickering behind your hands at me. Okay, now I hear you laughing out loud the more you think about the ridiculousness of it all.


Sure, I can try to keep a general pattern of activities throughout the day, I can encourage him to nap when he seems tired, I can give him cues about when it’s time to go to sleep or time to play, but I cannot control my child at this point, because I cannot control his needs, and at this point in his life, everything is driven by needs, not by behavioral training.  Not to start any arguments about parenting styles, but based on my experience so far, parents who are able to “control” their babies at this age are either being fooled by a baby who naturally does what the parents are wanting (i.e. sleeping through the night), or they have controlled their child’s behavior at the expense of some facet of the child’s emotional well-being. When my son “decides” that he is hungry earlier than I was expecting, then I feed him. When he wakes up in the middle of the night because he is hungry, because he had a scary dream, or because his tummy is bothering him, I do my best to meet his need. I learned very quickly that we are both happier when I focus more on bonding with my son, learning how he communicates and meeting his needs, rather than trying to make him meet mine.


Not that there aren’t times that I get a little frustrated that nothing is getting accomplished because my whole day was spent feeding or soothing a little boy, or that I don’t feel exhausted when I’ve been up three times in the middle of the night feeding or burping or changing him. Not having control is inconvenient. In some circles, being a parent without total control (even of an infant) is not popular. But I’m less stressed when I embrace the fact that I don’t have control.


Not having control is also scary at times. Every parent struggles with fears about the health and safety of their children. I suppose it is even worse for first time moms. One example of this for me has been the fear of SIDS. If you have had a baby in the last couple decades, you know that there is an entire litany of rules for reducing the risk of your baby dying suddenly and inexplicably in their sleep. The rules may change a bit over the years, but every mom pays close attention and does her best to avoid the myriad dangers that apparently lurk during sleep. We must not have crib bumpers or blankets or stuffed animals in the crib. We should have our baby close to us and have a fan running to move the air around. The baby should always, always sleep flat on their back (if you let them sleep on their tummy or side, you are just asking for trouble, apparently). With all these warnings, which do indeed have merit, the new mother brings home a baby and, if she’s anything like me, becomes a basket case the first time she sets her precious newborn in his bassinet or crib for the first night.


It’s not so bad during the day when you walk by and check on them constantly, but at night, when you should supposedly be asleep, you worry that if you sleep for even a moment, your baby will stop breathing and you’ll wake up in the morning to your worst nightmare. But the fact is, you can’t really control something like SIDS. Now sure, you can follow the precautions that make it much less likely that something would happen to your child in his sleep, but there is a reason that SIDS exists as a cause of death for infants  – it is sudden and not explained by any other cause. You can’t prevent what can’t be diagnosed or determined.


While I still find myself peeking over the edge of the cradle and look for that rise and fall of his little chest when I happen to wake up at night, I’ve come to realize that there are some things I can’t protect my son from, and so no amount of staying awake at night or never leaving his side can ensure his health and safety. In fact, I know that at some points in his life, bad things are going to happen to him, things I cannot prevent. I wish I could, but life doesn’t allow me to completely control what does or does not happen to my child. The best I can do is use common sense to prevent the “bad stuff” that I can, and trust God for the rest.


And there we come to my biggest area of fear and lack of control. Ah, that trusting God with “the rest”. Like I said earlier a couple of times, bad things are going to happen. To all of us. Some things may seem worse than others, but none of us are immune. The risks for those really disastrous things may be statistically small, but if you’re the person they happen to, the statistics mean nothing. And that is where fear continues to try to get a new grip on me: something terrible is not likely to happen to me, but I cannot guarantee that it won’t. I can’t use the Christian/spiritual cop-out of “It will be okay; God is in control,” because while God is in control, I might still suffer tragedy. The real answer is that bad things are going to happen to all of us, but because God is in control, we can survive the tragedies and struggles of life, and we have the promise that something good will come out of our suffering. I don’t know what lies ahead for me or for my son, and I cannot control much of it, but I can trust and have a relationship with the one who does know and control the future.


Tuesday’s Truth – The Gift of No

Welcome back, friends! Today I’m writing you from the unbearably hot and humid state of Kansas. Every time I see The Wizard of Oz, I wonder why Dorothy doesn’t do a little happy dance when she says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” It alternates between blast furnace and Roman steam bath. But I digress.


What I really want to talk to you about today is an important parenting principle. Before you dismiss me based on the fact that the only parenting I’ve done so far is poking my belly to keep my little guy kicking, let me tell you that I’m not going to actually give you advice on how to parent your children (although if you pick something up from this, that’s great). What’s really going on here is that I was inspired recently by a parallel between parenting and God’s ways with us.


Like any first-born, first time mother who is paranoid and certain that she will completely ruin her child, I’ve been furiously reading every parenting book I can get my hands on. (Note: this is not actually a good idea.) There are many rules, schedules, tips, and tricks that you are apparently supposed to follow to ensure a healthy, well-adjusted child. Some will probably prove useful, others to be a useless burden, but there is one that has really stuck out to me even before I’ve had the opportunity to try it out. It just makes sense to me. I call it “The Gift of No”.


The basic principle is that it is important for you to tell your child no (although not necessarily to use the word itself) on a regular basis. Your child will develop better emotional and psychological health if they do not get everything they ask for. It’s good for them to be denied once in a while. It’s okay if they don’t get every experience, toy, or opportunity. It’s healthy for them to be allowed to fail because you don’t solve all their problems for them. From my time teaching young children, I can see that this is a true principle.


But as I thought about it more, I wondered why it was true. What is it about being judiciously denied certain things that helps a child become emotionally strong and healthy? It seems to me that there are four main things that the Gift of No teaches children. First, it teaches them that they are not the central, most important thing in the world. They learn that their desires do not outweigh the needs and desires of others. This kind of humility makes for a thoughtful, caring person. Second, it teaches patience and self-discipline. When a child does not immediately get everything he or she wants, it develops the ability to deny self. This helps a child learn to either wait for a better time, or to choose not to indulge themselves. Third, it teaches contentment. Through experience, the child learns that he or she can still be happy and fulfilled even without many of the things that he or she may initially desire. Fourth, it teaches the child to prioritize. When you can’t have or do everything you desire, you learn how to choose what is most important to you.


Now, you may be thinking, this is interesting parenting advice, but what does it have to do with issues of spirituality and Christian life? Well, as I was thinking through they why’s and wherefore’s of the Gift of No, it suddenly dawned upon me that this isn’t a new principle at all, but something that God instituted from the beginning of Creation, and that it is not just true in raising children, it is true in God’s development of us as well. Those four character qualities that we find important in the emotional health of our children are equally, if not even more  important in our spiritual health. God wants to develop in us others-centeredness, self-discipline, contentment, and right priorities. Those four are cornerstones of a healthy spiritual life. The Bible is full of examples of God giving the Gift of No to His children. Think through them with me:

  • God told Adam and Eve, “No,” when it came to the forbidden fruit in order to develop discipline.
  • God told Moses, “No,” when it came to entering the Promised Land because Moses had not prioritized obedience over expedience.
  • God told David, “No,” when it came to building the temple not only because of David’s prior actions, but also to teach both David and Solomon discipline and others-centeredness.
  • God told John and James (and their mother), “No,” when it came to promising them positions of honor in His kingdom to remind them that they were not more important that His other followers.
  • God told Paul, “No,” when he asked for the ‘thorn in his flesh’ to be removed to teach him contentment.


There are many more examples throughout the Bible, and in the lives of Christians throughout history. You’ve probably heard someone say that God answers our prayers three different ways: Yes, No, and Wait. We like the Yeses. We’re okay with the Waits. But we like to try to make all of the No’s into Waits, don’t we? We need to come to terms with the fact that sometimes God is flat-out telling us, “No.” Not because He doesn’t love us. Not because He wants us to be unhappy. Not because He is being arbitrary. He tells us, “No,” precisely because He does love us, and wants us to be emotionally and spiritually healthy. When we accept that a “No” from God is just as loving and gracious as a “Yes,” then we are one step closer to being the healthy and whole person that He made each of us to be.


May you grow in grace!

Tuesday’s Truth – It’s Tradition!

Welcome to another week. Today’s topic is something that we’re all familiar with – traditions. We all have them, whether we like them or not. We learn them, adjust them, abandon and create them throughout life. If you’re at all like me,  you grew up with two sets of traditions for things like holidays, birthdays, and family gatherings. And then, if you married someone like my husband, you added in two more sets of traditions that were not only completely different from each other, but also completely different from the two you grew up with. They can be based on your ethnic background, religious beliefs, regional differences, and personal preferences. They can be mainstream or extreme, but either way, they are the main rules of “how we do things in this family”. And then, if you grew up in church, any church (or mosque, synagogue, or temple), you have a set of religious traditions that you carry around as well. Some of you have a very limited set, others (like myself) have a more “confused” bag of church traditions. For example, I was raised in a variety of evangelical churches, but I had family members who were Catholic, I attended a Baptist college, but then spent several years teaching at an Episcopal school. So I’ve had the full range of worship from pew kneelers to hand-raisers, environments from school gyms to stained glass, and sermon series based on popular movies as well as morning worship guided by the Book of Common Prayer. Eclectic doesn’t even begin to cover it.


Traditions are a crucial part of human culture and psychology. Our brains thrive on having a predictable framework for life. This is true at work, in the family, and in religion. Even those who reject what they see as “organized religion” still form their own traditions, rituals, and beliefs. Traditions help us connect with others, and help us bridge gaps in time and space. Traditions help the transmission of history and wisdom. Many traditions are enjoyable or comforting.


Traditions can have a negative side as well. They can be restrictive. They can be burdensome. They may be irrational, obsolete, or irrelevant. Traditions can keep people at a distance and create confusion. Some traditions may cause people to completely dismiss God or the church because they are too difficult to understand, too hard to follow, or too uncomfortable.


The thing about traditions is that they are only a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Too often, we become attached to a tradition, and force ourselves and others to “follow the rules” because it is tradition, rather than holding to a tradition because it is inherently valuable. An extreme example of this would be the extended segregation that was practiced in the southern United States even after the Civil Rights Act was passed, long after the myths about African Americans being sub-human or diseased or violent had been dispelled. White people didn’t want to associate with black people, but they couldn’t give a good reason why, they just knew that it wasn’t done: their grandparents and parents had avoided contact, and so should they. It was just the way things had always been, so it was they way they should be. That’s the biggest trap of traditions. Somehow we fall into a belief that tradition is more important than truth; that traditions should be followed because they are traditions, not because they serve a purpose or have sacred importance. We fear changing or discarding any traditional practice or position because we have so strongly linked “the way it has always be done” with “the way God wants us to do it”.


We seem particularly prone to this in religious and moral matters. We sometimes put more importance on the way our culture, church, or family has done things than on what God actually says (or doesn’t say) about many issues. (Please note, I am not saying that all moral positions are just traditions; I believe in moral absolutes, but only where God has made it clear that something is an absolute. Many of the things we hold tightly to are really interpretations and traditions, and we need to extend grace to each other, not judgment.) I witnessed an amusing example of this several years ago. My husband and I were still be living in the town where we attended college (a relatively conservative Baptist school). The college had very strict rules against any type of drinking, smoking, or other substance use, and most of the students had grown up in homes and churches that likewise took a very dim view of such things. However, at that moment, there happened to be a conference of Episcopal bishops and clergy meeting at the Episcopal school I taught in. Episcopalians have no tradition that frowns upon drinking or smoking in moderation. I had become used to this in my time working at the school, but many of the students attending my alma matter did not have the benefit of that experience. One evening during the bishops’ conference, we were enjoying dinner at a local pub and coffee shop, which was very popular with students (and which happened to be run by the rector of the local Episcopal church). The bishops and clergy had all decided to meet there as well. One of the men, with his purple shirt, clerical collar, and large cross, stepped outside for a smoke. At the table next to us, a young man, obviously from the Baptist college, was talking with his friend, and they could not reconcile in their minds how someone who was obviously a Christian minister could also be an unashamed smoker. Now, I’m not saying smoking is a good idea. We know that it is a serious health risk. However, it’s not expressly addressed in the scriptures, and so I can’t say that the smoking bishop was any less of a Christian, any less obedient to God, just because he smoked a cigarette and I did not. We must be cautious about letting our traditions  cloud our views of other sincere, God-fearing, people.


We fall into this trap in missions and evangelism too. We think that part of converting people to faith in Christ is making them like us. This was clearly the case in the early years of world missions, when missionaries from England and America would go to Africa and Asia and not only preach the Gospel, but also try to change the clothing, language, and the social and family structure of the people they had been sent to, as if making them Christians also meant making them English-speaking Westerners. At this point in history, we have gotten much better about being culturally sensitive, but the belief that changed hearts necessarily mean changed traditions still holds on. If we want to continue reaching people, both at home and abroad, we need to be more conscientious about to what extent we are asking people to obey God, and to what extent we are asking them to follow our own traditions. We need to not be afraid to confront and change tradition where it is no longer serving its intended purpose, and is instead serving to keep people farther from God.


I found a wonderful quote about this very thing in my leisure reading this week. I had just begun re-reading Charlotte Bronte’s classic, Jane Eyre, one of my very favorite books. I always have appreciated the philosophy and theology that Bronte weaves throughout her works, but I found this gem in her preface to the novel. She says, speaking of tradition,

“Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns. These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines for the world-redeeming creed of Christ.”


We are not the only ones to struggle with this balance between tradition and truth. The Jewish community in Jesus’ day had a very strong culture of traditions. Some where merely cultural, while many of them were based on the laws and regulations that God had given to Moses and the Israelites. In the end, however, they did not serve to help people cultivate their relationship with God, but to keep people from having that close, loving relationship with Him. Jesus himself chastised the religious leaders of the day, saying “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46) Jesus often disregarded Jewish custom, tradition, and regulation when it served his purpose of drawing people to himself. He healed on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-3, Luke 13:9-11), and allowed his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-3). When confronted by the religious leaders of the day, he rhetorically asked them whether it was better to do good or evil on the Sabbath (Luke6:9), basically turning the question of what observing the Sabbath meant back on their own heads. In Matthew 15, Jesus took part in a debate with the religious leaders about the value of traditions. He summed up his indictment of the religion of the day by saying, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6b) To Jesus, the one person who perfectly fulfilled all of God’s law, the point was not the act of observing a ritual or of maintaining a tradition, but of living with one’s heart tuned to God.


Early church leaders also cautioned against those who professed to be Christians but insisted on new believers following the old Jewish customs in order to be saved or to be a part of the church.  This is what he had to say: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) In Acts 15, Paul, James, Peter and other leaders of the early church determined that there was no point in making new believers (especially those from outside the Jewish culture) follow the traditions of Judaism, but to instruct them to obey the core of God’s law. Peter pointed out that the old traditions and rules had been too much even for centuries of faithful Jews. (Acts 15:10) In his letter to the Philippians, Paul warned the church not to be led astray by those who would seek to enforce Jewish customs in the name of salvation in Christ, because we are not saved by outward acts, but by inward belief. (Philippians 3:1-3) Disagreements about traditions often threatened to tear the early church apart, but the Apostles wisely intervened and taught their followers to put their focus on honoring God, rather than honoring man’s traditions.


Traditions can be useful and enjoyable, but they do not tell us much about how we really must live as children of God. Fortunately, the Bible is very clear on what really matters. The prophet Micah gave a clear description of a life lived rightly when he wrote, “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Jesus summed up all of God’s laws in two simple (yet still not easy) requirements: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) Outwith those few things, the rest is just window dressing. The design of your church, the order of service, the style of worship music, the fashion of your clothes, the way you celebrate holidays, the rituals you do or don’t observe – they may help you personally in your relationship with God, but they must not ever take the place of that relationship.


Be Blessed!


How do you feel about traditions, especially within Christianity? Are there any you find particularly valuable in your walk with God?

Tuesday’s Truth – The Clock is Ticking

Hello, Friends. What I have to share with you today may not seem encouraging at first, but my hope is that what we discover today will give you the fuel to keep pushing on. You see, my mind has been quite consumed this week with thoughts of life and death.  Life, because I’m getting closer and closer to welcoming my child into this world, and seeing him begin his life. I am amazed by all the possibilities in store for him. And death, as we lost a dear friend this week after a short battle with cancer. I’m still in shock because it seemed far too soon for her to be taken. The truth is, we don’t know what life will bring. I can tell you the things I dream and hope for my son, but in reality, I have no idea what his life will be like. And just as we cannot say what the course of our life will be, we also cannot rightly predict what its end will be. We are often left wondering why some people are taken as children or in the prime of life, while others live into their hundreds. Aside from trusting that God has a perfect timing for each one, I can’t really explain it. But what I do know is that the Bible has some clear points and thoughts regarding how we are to view our own life and death.  The ones I want to focus on today come from four men who had very intense lives and experiences with God. The first, and our longest passage, comes to us from Moses, who spent many, many years of his life waiting and struggling. I want you to see this whole Psalm for context, but then we’re going to make some connections to draw out the truths of the sections that are in bold print.


Psalm 90, a psalm of Moses:


“Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”

A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.”


If you know the whole story of Moses, then you can see how his pleas and praises in this psalm accurately echo his experiences of exile, struggle, and wandering. Now let’s make our connections and pull out the life and death truths that he is speaking of.


Look back at verse 3.  Moses speaks of us as mortals returning to dust. This is our first truth – that every one of us will one day die. The writer of Hebrews puts it bluntly: “And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)  Perhaps not the most pleasant thought, and depending on your age right now, it may be easier or harder to grasp. I’m at a point in life were I can’t really imagine coming to the end of my life. I’m so focused on building my own life and looking forward to the new life that is coming to our family,  that the idea of being an old woman and knowing my days are coming to a close is almost outside of what I can imagine.


But if we look at the next two sections, verses 5-6 and verse 10, we see that our days go by quickly and that we cannot be certain of their number.  We learn just from experience that there is no minimum or maximum number of days in a life. The only boundaries are those set by God for each individual person. Let’s take the word of Job, who certainly saw his share of what we might call untimely deaths in his family, and who probably more than once wondered why he himself was still alive. He said, “You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.” (Job 14:5) We are limited, not boundless, as we would often like to believe. David, the king and writer who spent many years of his life waiting for God’s plans to come to fulfillment and who spent a great deal of time running and fighting for his life, also realized how short a single human life is. He said, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:5) While 80 or 100 years may seem long to us at times, in the grand scheme of human history, and especially in light of eternity, it is just a tiny drop in an enormous bucket. Our time is short and unpredictable. I can’t guarantee that just because I’m under thirty I have many years to go. And I can’t guarantee that the sweet little old ladies at church have any less time than I do. What I can guarantee is that we each have a limited amount of time, and that should make us very thoughtful.


Look at our last passage from Psalm 90, verse 12. Moses equates numbering (counting, considering) our days with learning wisdom. David makes a similar request of God: “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4 ) When we remember the first two truths (1: That we will each face death; and 2: That our time on earth is not only limited, but relatively short) we are by necessity forced to make a choice. We can either hear those truths and then choose to ignore them and continue living carelessly, or we can realize the truth and choose to live consciously, carefully, and purposefully. While I fully believe that the Bible is the only source I need for truth about how I should live, I find it very interesting and exciting when other religions and philosophies agree with what the Bible says. A quick survey of philosophy, psychology and many major religions will echo what we find here; that is to say that life is much richer and more satisfying when we live with the mindset of making the most of a limited time and with a definite purpose (specifically a purpose other than just our own enjoyment). See what St. Paul, who clearly packed as much purpose into life as it is possible to, said about how we should live: “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)


How many of us truly make the most of each moment? I know that I often miss that mark. Most of us are born with excellent time-wasting skills. Today’s technological environment makes it even easier with smartphones, internet access, streaming video, and all that goes along with those things. Certainly they can be useful, and shouldn’t’ be dismissed out of hand any more than books or exercise or sleeping should, even though some people may not find those pursuits “useful”.  The key is not for us to make lists of things that we should never do (or make ourselves to-do lists that take up every single moment), but for us to be wise and circumspect about how we are spending our time.


That means that we are careful about how we choose to use our energies. It is tempting to think that making the most of the time means doing the most things with our time. It would seem to us that we ought to put in the extra hours at work to please our bosses and clients (and possibly to make some extra money so that we can be good providers for our families), to say yes to every volunteer opportunity, and then to push ourselves to go the extra mile and home to do the maintenance or renovation projects that we feel will make our lives much better (and increase the resale value of our house!). In reality, though, more is not always more. When you are pulled in too many directions, when you are exhausted, when you are committing yourself to tasks and roles that are not using your talents and abilities to their best effect, you are actually making less of the time, rather than more. God, and the world, does not need you to do everything. Your company will not (usually) go out of business if you don’t work 20 hours a day, every day. The church will not cease to function if you don’t volunteer for the building committee, men’s ministry, outreach bowling league, and nursery duty. Your home will not fall into chaos if you aren’t able to replace all the cabinets and siding and landscape the lawn like a pro this summer. Don’t make yourself less effective by thinking you have to do everything for everyone, and don’t rob others of the opportunities to serve, give, and be responsible. God put more people than just you on the earth for a reason, and that reason was not so that you could do their work for them. What you need to do is to know what gifts, talents, abilities, and skills God has equipped you with, and also have a realistic understanding of the limitations He created you with. Evaluate every opportunity through those filters, and you will find yourself making better choices about how to wisely make the most of every moment you have been given.


If we are being wise about how we spend our moments, what room does that leave for rest, play, and relaxation? I believe that rest and recreation are critical to our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health. God was very clear about setting a precedent for rest, even going so far as to mandate one day of rest a week for the Israelites. It is important that you take time out to get adequate sleep so that your body continues to function at its best. If you work 18 hours a day every single day, you may be working a lot of “moments” but it is very doubtful that you are making the most of those moments because you are not at your best. You also need relaxation, time where you mind can slow down, where you can focus your thoughts and energies on something other than work (your day job or your service/volunteer work) or you will quickly become burnt out, jaded, or overwhelmed. The key to this is to make the most of your rest “moments” as well as your work “moments”. Does that mean formulating a relaxation checklist or a rest agenda? As much as I would probably be the first to fall into that trap, I have to say no. What it does mean is that when you are resting, relaxing, and recreating, you need to truly be resting, relaxing, and recreating. Don’t multitask your rest time. It’s tempting to try to watch a movie, spend time with your spouse, and read a book at the same time.  (Or at least it is for me.) It’s easy to say that you’re going to lay down on the couch or your bed for a nap, and then pull out your phone and start answering emails. There are as many different pitfalls as there are individuals when it comes to sabotaging your rest times.


Try an experiment this week: when you are “off the clock” so to speak, be more intentional about your rest and recreation. If you are going to read, do only that – no TV, no background music, no chatting on the phone or texting. If you are going to watch a show or a movie, do only that (I’ll allow for some snuggling on the couch with your spouse or child, though!). When you spend time with a friend, spouse, or child, be intentional. Do something truly together, not just at the same time. Have a real conversation. Ignore your phone and emails. Really be with that person. When you go to bed, don’t take your tablet, smartphone or laptop with you. Just lie down, think restful thoughts (the classic “counting your blessings” really does work!), and let rest come to you, rather than cramming something into every moment before you fall asleep out of exhaustion.  It will be harder than you think (I know I will struggle with it this week!) but give it a try, and see how you feel at the end of the week. Do you feel like you are both more productive and more rested? Did anything interesting happen when you really focused your attention on the people you spend time with?  I’d love for you to share your experiences in the comments this week.


Joy to you!



Tuesday’s Truth – You Won’t Make It Alone

Hello again. I hope you’re ready for some more truth this week! Today we’re going to look at what the Bible has to say about friendship. We’ll see why we need friends, why it can be hard to find friends, and what it means to be a good friend. Whether you feel like you have more friends than you know what to do with, or like you haven’t a friend in the world, you need to know these truths. Let’s dive right in.


Why do we need friends? The Bible has a lot to say about the purposes and usefulness of friends. Let’s be clear, though. When we talk about friends today, we’re not simply talking about people  you like to go out with – your social circle. We’re talking about a kind of friendship that is much richer and deeper than that. The Bible says that we need good, godly friends because:

We need people in our lives who will support us, defend us, encourage us, and yes, sometimes correct us. The great musical duo Simon & Garfunkel sang,

“I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.”

Now, that song was likely a bit tongue-in-cheek, but many of us have adopted that way of thinking. I don’t need friends because they will let me down. I don’t need them because they won’t understand me, or they will judge me. I can’t be completely open and honest with them, or they won’t be my friends anymore. I don’t need friends because there’s nothing they could tell me or do for me that I can’t think of or do on my own. A strange mixture of self-loathing and pride let us deceive ourselves that we don’t need real friendships; that the social circle (or complete solitude) is enough.


And why not feel that way? Isn’t it awfully hard to find good friends? Yes, it can be. I know that at certain times in my life, it has felt nearly impossible. But why is it that we struggle so much to find and develop true friendships?


The first reason goes right back to the attitudes we talked about just moments ago. We block ourselves from seeking and developing friendships because we are trying to protect ourselves from pain and disappointment, or because we think that we are strong enough on our own that we don’t need anyone else deeply involved in our life. I am certain that this very thinking prevented me from developing meaningful relationships at several points in my life. I hate to be harsh here, but you are not all that. You are not so wise that you don’t need the counsel of others. You are not so smart or so refined that you would lower yourself to be associated with other people. You are not so emotionally steady and strong that you can weather the storms of life without others to anchor and support you. Even if you don’t usually think of yourself as an arrogant or proud person, if you don’t have at least one or two deep and healthy relationships with other people (preferably outside your immediate family) then check your thinking and really evaluate your attitude towards yourself and others. Here’s the way I see it. Jesus Christ was the strongest and most emotionally stable person in history, and yet he purposefully surrounded himself with people. He had his 12 disciples, and three of those who were especially close to him. He also had trusted, loved friends among the towns that he visited. While his relationships with them were in great part for their learning and benefit, they were also meant to provide support for Jesus himself. Think about the story of his last night in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked the disciples to stay with him and pray for him, not as an exercise in prayer, but because he was extremely distressed and longed for the support of those closest to him. If the Son of God needed friends during his time on earth, you better believe that you and I will need them too.


Another reason that we have difficulty establishing the kind of friendships that the Bible says we need is that it is so much easier to make shallow friends. We can create these false friendships with wonderful people, but because we (and they) are not willing to put in the emotional energy and transparency, the relationships stay on the surface. We may trick ourselves into thinking that they are truly our friends, and to some extent they may be. They may like us, enjoy being around us, express concern about us or joy for us in the ups and downs of life, but when we get into a really sticky patch, or we make a big mistake, they are the first to head in the opposite direction. Proverbs 14:20 speaks about these kind of friends as those that are only with us when they are getting something from us. This is where belonging to a community of faith can make a big difference. In my church, I find people who share the same beliefs and values as me, who live similar lifestyles, and because of these things, I feel more comfortable exploring the depths of true friendship with them. Now, is every single person in my church going to become my dearest friend? Of course not. Sometimes we just won’t click because of different personalities. Sometimes it becomes clear that an individual is not as trustworthy or as ready to invest as I might hope. Some people are already heavily invested in others, and that is okay. But even with all of those people taken out of the equation, I still have a better chance of establishing the type of Biblical friendships that I need. Yes, the fear of being judged is out there. The truth is, though, that a true friend will correct you when you are in the wrong, but they will not judge or condemn you, because that is not their job.


Finally we come to the last thought – what it means to be a good friend. How many of you were told as a child, “To have a friend, you have to be a friend” ? It is simple, but as with many simple things, very true. You cannot expect people to care for and support you if you are not willing to do the same. If you want to develop strong friendships that meet God’s standards, you need to be:

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? In fact, if you think about it, the things that make for any healthy relationship are the same, whether a friendship, a marriage, or other family relationships. Many books, articles, and essays have been written on building healthy relationships, and many of them are worth reading. But even the best of them can only give practical expansions on what we just discovered in the Bible. Boiled down to it’s essence, you will get out of a friendship only what you put in. If you are compassionate, ready to serve, enthusiastically involved, and deeply invested in the lives of others, you can expect that they will invest in your life in the same way. On the other hand, if you are only willing to make shallow, cursory investments in their lives, they will not become deeply involved in yours. It’s not profound or new truth, but yet we seem to often forget it.


I have been on both sides of this truth. I’ve gone through times of not feeling like I needed anyone, times of wanting deeper friendships but feeling unable to develop them, and times of sweet joy in friendship. Fortunately for me it has been a progression as I have learned more about God’s Word and about myself. I want to encourage you, whatever stage you are at, to take a close look at your own heart and attitude, and at your relationships, and ask God to help you understand how you can develop healthier, more rewarding friendships, the kind that He has designed you to desire.