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!

Tuesday’s Truth – You Can’t Handle It!

Hello friends. Yes, I realize that I was AWOL last week. I confess that the reason was an emotionally and spiritually crippling case of fear and self-doubt related to the impending birth of our son. Of course, all first time parents wonder if they are ready, if they’ll do well raising their children, etc. etc.  I, on the other hand, was suddenly sure that I couldn’t do it, that I was doomed to be an awful mother and that my child(ren) would come to resent and despise me. I wondered what on earth I had done in conceiving this child; not that I didn’t want to have my son, but that I was pretty sure he wouldn’t want to have me for a mother. My sweet husband let me sob out all my fears and uncertainties without interrupting me to tell me how irrational I was. I spent a good hour or two with my journal. Through those two things (as is usually the case) God opened my eyes up to the truth of the matter, and renewed my spirit.

 

Here’s the truth that I found. In a way, I was right all along. I can’t do this. I can’t be a great mother. I could quite possibly be a really bad one, there’s a small chance that I could be an okay one, but on my own, there is no chance of me being a really good mother. I am far too impatient, selfish, lazy, and critical to provide the loving and nurturing environment that my son needs and deserves. I don’t stand up well to extreme stress and sleep deprivation. All of that just adds to the fact that I’ve never been a parent before. You can see why I was indulging in some serious self-doubt last week!

 

But the truth is bigger than my absolute inability. The second, and much better, part of the truth is that I don’t have to do it on my own. I have an amazing support in all this. Now, I’m not talking about my husband, even though he is unbelievably helpful and supportive, and will be a fantastic dad. No, I’m referring to the fact that God is my support and strength in this calling just as much as He is with someone He calls to be a missionary, a writer, a doctor, or a preacher. Just because my mission is contained within the walls of my house doesn’t make me any less called or divinely equipped for the task set before me. I have the unlimited power and wisdom of the Creator of the universe backing me up as I take on this new challenge.

 

Here’s the thing. There’s this saying that goes around Christian and pseudo-Christian circles that always raises the hair on my neck just a little bit: “God never gives you more than you can handle.” It sounds so reassuring, doesn’t it? Well, the bad news is that it is 100% pop-religion positive malarkey. (There’s another term for it that my own mother would be horrified if I used, but you get the idea). What we should be saying to each other is, “God will never give you more than He can handle.”  If God didn’t give us more than we could handle, then we wouldn’t have much of a need for God, would we? What’s more, history, both in the Bible and beyond, is full of examples that prove my point.

 

Let’s name a few of them, just for fun.

  • Noah couldn’t have handled building the first boat in recorded history and proclaiming a coming flood amidst widespread mockery if God hadn’t given him the plans and the power.
  • Job was not naturally immune to loss, disease, or disaster. He simply trusted his God.
  • Moses was unqualified to speak before Pharaoh, to lead the Israelites, or to be the first and most revered prophet of Judaism and Christianity.
  • Gideon was not prepared, inclined, or qualified to lead an army against the Midianites.
  • David was not qualified, nor was he inherently capable of killing Goliath, or of later ruling the nation of Israel.
  • Mary was not naturally equipped to withstand the scandal and scrutiny of her unusual pregnancy, to raise the child-Messiah, or to endure the crucifixion of her son.
  • None of the Apostles had any pertinent skills or training for becoming religious leaders, with the exception of Paul. And he was in no way likely to be a first choice for leading Christianity into the wider world.
  • Martin Luther had no special background or qualifications that would have prepared him to be a leader of one of the biggest changes in organized religion since the break between Judaism and Christianity.
  • William Wilberforce had no particular talents or qualifications to spearhead the movement to end slavery in Great Britain.
  • Mother Theresa was not naturally equipped to run outreaches to millions, nor to become a global spokesperson for justice, compassion, and Jesus.

 

I could go on with even more personal examples of people who had been given far more than they were capable of handling on their own.  The fact is, God doesn’t choose us for difficult tasks because He knows that we can handle them, but because He knows that we will trust Him and turn to Him to get us through.  This is our reassurance: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

 

Here’s what I know: parenting is going to be hard. Not just learning how to bathe and feed and calm my newborn, although that will be enough on its own for several weeks. There will also be the discipline issues, the teenage troubles, the first heartbreaks, the sibling conflicts, the spiritual guidance. I can read all the parenting books in the world, and still not be completely prepared for what is coming as I raise this little boy and any other children we may have. If I try to tackle it on my own, I may have an occasional success, but I am guaranteed a high number of failures. If I turn to God as my strength and wisdom, though, I am guaranteed a high number of successes. The failures will come, but only because I will fail to rely on or listen to God, not because He fails me.

 

If you’re facing parenting struggles right now, whether they be with an infant or an adult child, you can join me in taking comfort in the fact that you can’t handle the situation on your own, but that you have access to the God who can handle it all.  Maybe parenting isn’t your struggle right now. The same rules still apply. You’re going to get more than you can handle. But you also get the One who can handle it.  If you trust that God cares about you and your situation, if you believe that He is able, and if you will surrender yourself to His will, He will do amazing things for you.  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

 

Tuesday’s Truth – Handmade, Handpicked

Welcome, Friends!

 

I hope your week has been filled with opportunities to find joy. Although I complained about the weather in Kansas in my last post, I have to confess that I had a wonderful week. I particularly enjoyed spending time with my grandmother, getting her to share memories of her childhood. I highly encourage you to probe the memories of the older people in your life. And don’t just ask about the big events; get them to share stories of their siblings, pets, their favorite foods and activities. It can be a wonderful way to connect with them. I always find it fascinating to trace the story of someone’s life and see how different circumstances and experiences have shaped them into who they are now. It makes me wonder what my current experiences and surroundings are preparing me for.

 

With this already floating in my mind this week, I read Isaiah 49. Two verses jumped out at me, probably because of my recent train of thought and because of my own pregnancy. The first is verse 1, in which Isaiah states, “The Lord called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother’s womb.” (Isaiah 49:1)  The second is verse 5, where the author goes on to say that the Lord “formed me from the womb to be His Servant.” (Isaiah 49:5) The Lord told the prophet Jeremiah almost the same things as Isaiah, “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

 

Now, clearly, we have not each been chosen to be a prophet on the scale of Isaiah or Jeremiah. But I couldn’t shake the idea that God knows us and lays out a plan for us from our very earliest moments, whether we are destined to be a great prophet, or a stay-at-home parent. My mind immediately went to other scriptures that speak to God’s knowledge of each child from before birth. David, in the Psalms, proclaims God’s active influence on the development and growth of each child, both physically and spiritually: “For it was You who created my inward parts;You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)  From there I traveled to the New Testament, where Paul tells us that as believers, “We are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

 

It’s clear that God’s work in our lives does not start at birth, it does not start when we enter school, it does not start when we choose to accept and follow Him, and it does not start when we feel we are ready. It starts before we are even the proverbial twinkle in our parents’ eyes. God doesn’t move us around like chess pieces, reacting to current events and situations, hoping that He can keep ahead of the other side. He has all the moves mapped out before a single piece is placed on the board. He has it all planned out for you, and what’s more, He handcrafted you as the specific piece you are. You are not an assembly line product, but a masterpiece made by hand, not to be sold to any customer, but to be enjoyed and loved by the Master Creator.

 

Such a thought should fill you with joy and wonder. I cannot fully comprehend the idea that God made me exactly as He wanted me, and that He has some special purpose for me to fulfill. I feel rather ordinary most of the time, and even less than ordinary on occasion. And yet, if I believe what Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, and Paul say, I am unique, wonderful, special, chosen by the King of the universe for His service and pleasure. When I really believe that, I look at myself differently. Not with pride, because I can take no credit for any of it; but with thankfulness, respect and love towards the One who made me.

 

But not only do I think of myself differently, I must view others differently too. When I look at you, my child, or my neighbor, I ought to see another example of God’s master craftsmanship. I ought to regard others with respect and wonder because God created them and planned their purpose from the earliest moments. I cannot regard any person, regardless of their stage of life or their perceived abilities or inabilities, as less or more valuable than myself, because they have each been knit together by the same hands. Knowing and believing that we have been handmade and handpicked by God should color our every thought and action, whether it is in regards to ourselves, or to others.

 

Your mind may be quickly turning to issues of sanctity of life, the treatment of those with physical or mental handicaps, of the variety of prejudices we as humans may hold. And you would be right; those issues are a perfect place for this truth to inform our thoughts and actions. But to only focus on those issues would be a mistake. This truth should also influence the way we speak to our spouse and our children, the way we treat the cashier at the grocery, the way we perceive the old man in the park. God’s truths were never meant to be stored in a box and only brought out for special occasions and grand debates. They were meant to be carried with each of us, guiding and counseling us in every area as we walk through life.

 

Meditate on these verses this week. Allow them to shape and change your mind as you view yourself and those around you as God’s special, chosen ones made for a wonderful purpose.

 

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 – You Better Find Somebody to Love

Hello again! I know, I’m a day late with this one. It’s not even very long, so that’s not my excuse. Mostly, I was letting an idea marinate, to see if it was what was really supposed to go up this week. And I think that it is. Today I want to share with you something that seems so simple, but yet is often so difficult for Christians to put into practice. It’s one of the central features of Jesus’ life, and yet probably the one we least like to imitate. What is it? Simply put, it is loving sinners. I’m not interested in discussing specific lifestyles, actions, or choices that you or I believe are sinful. That’s not what’s at issue here. The sin isn’t the issue; our action is. Let’s use a bare-bones definition of a sinner – anyone who has not believed in salvation from sin through the death of Jesus. That’s who we’re talking about this week.

 

We like to say that we love sinners and want to bring them into God’s family. But many of us (I’ve been guilty of this too) only love people “outside the fold” in an abstract sort of way. We don’t go outside of the church and love them (socialize with them, care for them in times of need, encourage them, etc.); we hope that they will “get saved” so that they can be like us and then we can really love them.

 

Why do we do this? I think there are lots of different reasons. Sometimes we are afraid that if we associate with people who don’t follow all the same rules as us (this can even apply to other Christians sometimes, sadly) we will become “less saved” and fall into sin. If we associate with someone who uses profane language, we’ll start using it too. If we socialize with someone who drinks too much, we’ll become alcoholics as well. If we befriend someone who’s living with their boyfriend or girlfriend, we’ll become sexually immoral. While we certainly need to be on our guard to not be sucked into sin or worldliness, we are promised that we have not been given “a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” (2 Timothy 1:7) God doesn’t save us and then allow us to be weak and fragile in the face of sin. If that were true, wouldn’t He just transport each person to heaven as soon as they believed, because they would be too delicate to remain in the world? We need to have more faith in the spirit God has placed within us. If we are loving the lost in the way that God has called us to, we don’t have to worry about being dragged away from Him.

 

Sometimes we avoid people we see as sinners because we just don’t know how to interact with them. We may have been sheltered by our parents during childhood, and by our church during adulthood, that we feel that we have nothing in common with those outside the church. They don’t understand our “holy-speak” and we don’t understand the things that they enjoy or that they are upset by. This is a legitimate obstacle, but one that must be overcome if we want to claim that we really love the lost. How do we do it? A little bit at a time, I think. Look for ways to find common ground with the unsaved around you. If you were homeschooled, went to a Christian college, and then worked in a parachurch organization, you probably don’t want to start out trying to connect with a biker gang. Baby steps, folks. What about the neighbors who have kids the same age as your kids? Or maybe fellow athletes on a community team? Start by finding the things that are the same about you, and hopefully they’ll see the differences between you in a positive light that turns them towards Jesus. (Which means that you’ll have to be careful to make those differences positive!)

 

Finally, I think a huge reason we neglect to actively, tangibly love sinners around us is arrogance and pride. We have our list of the really bad sins, and people in our lives who commit one of those sins are just too “dirty” for us. We can’t be friends with that guy at work, because it might expose our children to the evil in the world if they found out how he lives. We can’t let our daughter invite the neighbor girl over to play because her mommy doesn’t have good enough morals. We see ourselves as “good” and “pure” and these others as “bad” or “corrupted” and we’re afraid that they will rub off on us, or somehow diminish our goodness. We think that it is a case of oil and water, and that mixing is simply  impossible.

 

Friends, that’s not how it works, for so many reasons. First off, you are not so great. Before you were saved, you were, in the eyes of God, just as lost as the most sinful person you can think of. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) In His mercy God saved you, and in His mercy He can save others. There is no award for being saved, because you didn’t earn it or accomplish it. If God can love and have grace and mercy for the lost, surely you should be able to. If you are not a slave to sin, it is because Jesus paid for your freedom, and not because you were inherently strong or good.

 

Second, the sin of others can’t just “rub off” on us. It’s not like the flu – it doesn’t just spread, I promise. I’ve spent a lot of time around a lot of people with all the different brands of sin, and I haven’t become ensnared by any of them. But don’t ask me, ask Jesus. He spent more time with the lost than most of us ever will, and yet he remained without sin. Jesus loved a fraudulent tax collector (Zacchaeus – Luke 19:1-10), an adulterous woman (the Samaritan at the well – John 4:1-26),  and so many others that he and his disciples were infamous for their associations with the moral and religious outcasts (Matthew 9:10-11, Mark 2:15-16, Luke 5:29-30, Luke 7:34).  Jesus didn’t see his righteousness and purity as something to be jealously guarded and protected, but as something to be shared. He knew the importance having faithful friends who loved and worshipped God and set that example for us in his choosing of the disciples. We all need a community of people who share our faith and can encourage us. But Jesus also showed us how important it is for us to let the love we receive from our relationship with the Father spill over into the world around us, particularly to those who have not yet experienced the love of God. Jesus didn’t come so that good, moral Christians would have something in common; he came so that the sinful, the lost, the broken could be saved, healed, and restored (Matthew 9:12) And that is the job he left to us when he returned to the Father (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8).

 

To wrap this all up, I’m not sure exactly why this is what I felt compelled to write about this week. Perhaps it will be a timely challenge and reminder to some of you. Maybe it will convict someone. I know it has challenged me just thinking about it, evaluating how I live in relation to the lost around me. Do I judge, or do I love? So often Christians feel that we have the right, the responsibility even, to judge the sinners around us. But we don’t. Of all the commands and instructions and responsibilities that God gives us after we are saved, judging is not one of them. Not the unsaved, not the saved. He kept that job all for Himself. I get so frustrated by people who claim to be Christians, but then make Christianity so unattractive by loudly and obnoxiously judging and denouncing sinners. Yes, sin is a problem. It’s a huge problem. It’s the problem. But we don’t win people to Christ by telling them how terrible they are and how they are ruining society. We don’t make Christ attractive by proclaiming our own goodness and righteousness. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of their sin, and it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance, not our bashing or our boasting. (Romans 2:4)

 

Loving the lost is a risky proposition. It opens your eyes to see people the way that God does. It allows for the possibility that you will care about someone who refuses to answer the call to salvation. You may see those you love lost for eternity. God calls us to love the way that He does, and that kind of love opens the door to all sorts of pain. God’s heart aches continually for the lost who refuse His loving advances. And yet the rewards are just as infinite. When you see the lost saved, broken lives made new, sick souls healed, and people transformed by the power of Christ, there is nothing more amazing. You get to be a witness to something that causes all the angels to rejoice. I don’t know how God is calling you to love those around you. But I do know that He is calling you to it. Please seek Him this week, and don’t just wait for an answer – get out there and start loving some sinners!

 

Peace!

 

 

 

Tuesday’s Truth – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Welcome back! Today I want to share with you another that was inspired by my reading about the ancient kings of Judah and Israel. I have to say, when I go back and dig through the Old Testament, I am often quite surprised by the level of treachery, violence, and corruption that existed in those days. If these were action movies instead of the Bible, I’d probably steer clear of them. I guess it is true, like Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, that there is nothing new under the sun. I find it interesting that God did not sugar-coat the history of His people. Many times in the accounts of the kings we are given this basic formula: King X did A and B which were good in the sight of the Lord, but he also did C, and so he did not obey God completely. Sometimes it’s just a plain, “King X did evil in the sight of the Lord and turned the people from Him.” Wow. Not how I would want to be remember for the next 3,000 years. I also find it interesting which events were included in the accounts of the kings, as some of them seem obviously important, while others feel more obscure. Each day, I’m excited to see what will happen next.

 

One morning recently, I was reading about a king of Israel named Jeroboam. (2 Kings 14:23-29) Now, the first king of Israel after Judah and Israel split was also named Jeroboam, and he was one bad dude. He’s the guy all the other kings are compared to. In fact, often, their reigns are summed up, “He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and followed the sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had caused Israel to commit.” The Jeroboam we’re talking about today was not this first king, but a later namesake. The first Jeroboam was not a person I’d want to be named after. And yet, here we are, a couple hundred years later, and we have another Jeroboam. In the second verse about him, we see that same description just mentioned. He was an evil king. Not just a morally ambivalent king. Not a king with a mixed record. He was bad to the bone.

 

Here’s the interesting thing. God pulled out one main accomplishment from Jeroboam’s reign to include in the Bible. 2 Kings tells us that Jeroboam’s main feat during his 41 years as king was to restore many of the borders of Israel. This was important because during the reigns of the last few kings before him, Israel had been almost constantly under attack by her neighbors. The passage from 2 Kings 14 tells us that God saw the trouble that the Israelites were experiencing, and that they had no friends or allies to help them, so He stepped in and gave Jeroboam the ability to rebuild and refortify the borders of Israel. At first that doesn’t seem too surprising, since God often had saved His people from their enemies. If we think, though, a little more about the situation, we can see that this was really quite an extraordinary thing for God to do.

 

For one thing, the Israelites had been incredibly disobedient and unfaithful. In past times their faith and obedience had wavered (these were the people God had called “stiff-necked” back in Exodus), but never before had they been so completely dismissive of God. They ceased to obey His rules for worshipping Him, they began worshipping many of the false gods from neighboring lands, they killed His prophets when they didn’t approve of the message, and so on and so on. The people of Israel weren’t a bit backslidden, so to speak, they were in full-out rebellion against God. This was true from the king all the way down to the lowest classes of people. These were not a people who deserved, or even sought, God’s deliverance. And yet, God had compassion on them and rescued them from their troubles.

 

The second thing I find interesting about this situation is God’s choice of deliverer for His people. In most of the other cases where God delivers His people from something, the person He chooses to do His work is someone faithful and obedient to Him. He chose Noah to save animals and people from the Flood, Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, Joshua to lead them out of wandering and conquer their enemies, Gideon to deliver them from the Midianite raiders, and David to conquer the Philistines. And yet here we have Jeroboam, a notably bad guy, tasked with protecting and defending God’s people and their land. Why did God choose to use Jeroboam, rather than raising up a righteous hero? I don’t know. The Bible doesn’t  give us a lot of information here. I don’t even really have  a speculation. But what I do see is the truth that God sometimes uses truly bad things to make something good happen.

 

Here are just a few other examples of how God used bad people or situations to make good things happen for His people (which today includes all of us who believe in Him, not just the people of Israel):

  • God used the treachery of Joseph’s brothers (selling him into slavery in Egypt) to bring Joseph to power so that millions of people could be saved from starvation through his clever handling of food supplies before and during the massive famine that came over the Middle East.  (Genesis 50:20)
  • God used the captivity of His people by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians to allow Daniel to become a powerful advisor who spread the knowledge of God among the most powerful men of the day. (Read the whole book of Daniel – it’s fascinating!)
  • God used Cyrus, the ruler of the Persians, and arguably one of the  most ruthless kings of his era, to initiate and help fund the rebuilding of the walls and temple of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed 70 years earlier. (Ezra 1:1-4)

 

If you were to search through the Scriptures, I know you would find many more examples. As Paul said in his letter to the Roman church, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

 

Do we always see the good that God is going to bring about from the beginning? Surely not. When his brothers threw him in a pit, when they sold him to slave traders, when he was unjustly imprisoned, did Joseph know he would be a savior of many? Not in the least. When young Daniel was rounded up with his friends, separated from his family, forced to adapt to a new culture and a new language, did he know that he would counsel some of the most powerful men in all of history, or that God would use him to proclaim prophecies that are still being studied, thousands of years later? No, he couldn’t have even imagined it.

 

We live in a world where bad people and bad situations are abundant. We could spend all our time asking why God allows these people and things to exist, to continue. The philosophical and theological debates would be (and certainly are) endless, without any conclusion that satisfies everyone. The truth is, we don’t really know why God allowed evil to ever exist, and why He now allows it to continue. My feeling is that the reasons and relationships are far too complex for us to understand, even if God were to reveal them directly to us. I wish there were no evil. That is what makes Heaven such a wonderful concept – a place completely without evil must be unimaginably wonderful.  But such is not our situation here, no matter what you conclude about the nature, origin, or continued workings of evil. However, we have a clear promise and precedent in the Bible that God is bigger than the evil people and evil events of the world. He doesn’t just protect His people from evil, He doesn’t just teach us valuable lessons through the evil and painful things that happen to us, but He actually uses what we see as evil, bad, and unredeemable to do good for us in ways that we could not have anticipated or imagined.

 

I wish that I could say that this truth explains away all the pain and suffering in the world. I can’t. Evil actions cause pain. Joseph, Daniel, the Israelites – they all suffered real pain from their situations. If you have experienced something terrible in your life, there is no denying the pain you have felt. Evil, even when God uses it for good, is still evil. I can’t promise that you won’t experience pain, or that you will quickly see the ways that God intends to bring good out of your bad situation. Joseph, Daniel, and the Israelites waited decades to see God’s provision through their sufferings. The fact is, you may not even see the results in your lifetime. I don’t know how God is going to work in your individual situation. What I do know is that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that if He used bad for good 3,000 years ago, He’s still using bad for good now, and He will continue to do so in the future. Such a promise cannot erase the pain and suffering we will all experience, but it can give us a hope to cling to, a rope to help pull us up out of the depths and into a  more brightly lit faith.

 

Keep holding on!

Tuesday’s Truth – Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Welcome back again! Today I want to share something with you that I discovered in my daily Bible study. I’ve been going through a chronological reading of the Bible, and recently I’ve been covering the end of Solomon’s life, and the division of his kingdom into Israel and Judah. In my reading, I went through the last few chapters of the book of Proverbs. While most of the sayings in that book are clearly attributed to Solomon, Chapter 30 is supposedly written by a wise man named Agur. It is not clear who Agur was. Some sources believe that it was a symbolic pen name for Solomon. Others say that he was an Arabian ruler. The context, history, and Hebrew structure in the passage make it hard to be definitive. What is clear, though, is that whoever the writer of Proverbs 30 was, he made some very helpful observations about God, life, and the ways of the world. I’d like for you to look at just a few verses out of this chapter with me. Let’s start with a promise:

“Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

I love this idea of complete security. I’ve been reading lately about the kings of Israel and Judah, and it is amazing to me how simple it was that when they obeyed and trusted God, there was peace and prosperity, and they were never defeated, but when they went their own way and trusted in their own strength, or in their armies and allies, they invariably experienced failure and defeat. What a clear challenge to trust Him with everything.

The writer goes on to make a request of God:

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

The wise man here is giving us a lesson in contentment. How often do you pray this same sort of prayer? Do you ask for God to give you only what you need, what He wills you to have, or do you continually ask for more? Give it some serious thought this week.

15b “There are three things that are never satisfied,
four that never say, ‘Enough!’:
16 the grave, the barren womb,
land, which is never satisfied with water,
and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’

The writer continues with the idea of contentment vs. desire. I think we can all identify with the first two examples he give. As we talked about last week, death is something that is constant an inevitable. And all of us have known couples who have struggled with infertility. It is amazing what lengths people will go to try to conceive a child. The drugs, procedures, and financial costs are each extreme, and yet there is no slowing in the business of helping people have babies. The desire for the child overshadows any physical or financial discomfort. And while I cannot directly relate to that example, I certainly can relate to the final two. Here in our beautiful state of Colorado, our gorgeous spring and summer have been marred by a severe drought that has contributed to extensive wildfires. Last summer we dealt with the same issues, but this year seems even worse. Over 500 homes were destroyed just in one fire. In another area of the state, a popular tourist area was almost completely destroyed. In yet another area, over 50,000 acres of beautiful alpine forest have been consumed. Watching the reports come in each day, it is easy to see that fire never says, “Enough!”

Notice that these things which are impossible to satisfy are not spoken of positively by the writer. We live in a culture where a constant drive for more (more money, more power, more recognition, more success, more possessions, more happiness, more everything) is seen as a positive character trait. Commercials for athletic products tell us to keep pushing for more – faster times, more points, more wins. Educational institutions tell us that we can become more, earn more, learn more, if we attend their school. Movies and television tell us to climb the ladder, find a better spouse or partner, reach for the stars. We are told to never stop pushing the envelope, never accept defeat, never stay in one place too long. Satisfaction is the same thing as laziness and apathy. Every opportunity is meant to be taken, every risk is worthwhile.

And yet I wonder if we’re really happier, and more satisfied because of this constant drive for more. Look at the statistics relating to debt, divorce, and suicide just in the US. The average credit card debt in the US is over $15,000, The average mortgage debt is just under $150,000, and the average student debt is over $30,000. The divorce rate is around 40%. Nearly 40,000 people in the US commit suicide each year, and many more admit to thinking about it. We’re in a state of constant striving, and it’s not making us happier, more satisfied people.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon often speaks of human striving as being meaningless. It’s clear that more is not always better. Working hard, doing one’s best, reaching for dreams – all of that can be very worthwhile. Our failing is in letting our achievements, our possessions, our striving, take too high a priority. There are many ways we could talk about what this means, but let’s go back to what the writer said: having too much, seeking too much, can draw us away from God. We become like those kings I mentioned at the beginning who stopped trusting the Lord and experienced defeat and failure. Make the writer’s prayer your own this week. Ask Him to give you a spirit of contentment, no matter what your circumstance, trusting that He has given you all that you need.

 

Have a contented week!

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 – Precious in His Sight

Hello, friends! This week I’ve been thinking about children a lot. That’s probably because my little guy has been kicking and wiggling around much more over the past week, and I’m finally starting to believe that there is a tiny person growing inside me. The incredible excitement and the immense responsibility of his upcoming arrival have hit me hard lately as I research birth and child-rearing philosophies, as his little crib sits in the spare room waiting to be assembled, and as the pile of tiny clothes waiting to be organized grows. I know that the love I already feel for him can’t begin to compare with what I will feel the moment he’s in my arms. It’s hard to imagine. And as I was thinking about all of this, I realized something even more astounding. Even in all my maternal affection and devotion, I will never come close to loving my son the way that God loves him, the way that God loves all His children.

If you grew up in church (and probably even if you didn’t), you’re familiar with the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” One line reminds us that all children are “precious in His sight”. Sometimes children’s songs aren’t so great on theology, but this one is dead on. Throughout the Bible there are stories that make it clear how much God values children, as well as some pretty direct statements. Let’s look at just a few:

  • What was the first good thing that happened after Adam and Eve were banished from Eden for sinning? You guessed it, the births of the world’s first babies. (Genesis 4 )
  • God protected and blessed Ishmael, Abraham’s son with Hagar, even though he wasn’t the son God had promised to Abraham and Sarah. (Genesis 21:8-21)
  • God commanded the Israelites to instruct their children in the history of God’s relationship with His people and to teach them His laws and promises. (Deuteronomy 6:7)
  • God chose a young boy, Samuel, to become one of Israel’s greatest leaders.
  • God chose David, barely a teenager, to defeat Goliath and the Philistines, as well as to become the king of Israel.
  • The Psalms tell us that God is intimately involved in the development of each unborn child (Psalm 139:13)
  • Jeremiah is told that God knew him before he was even born. (Jeremiah 1:5) We can assume that God knows each one of us just as well.
  • Many proverbs speak to the importance of raising children.
  • God allowed Elijah to raise the widow’s son from death. (1 Kings 17:17-24)
  • God allowed Elisha to raise the Shunnamite’s son from death. (2 Kings 4:8-37)
  • Jesus healed many children and raised others from the dead. (Matthew 17:14-18 Luke 7:11-17 Mark 5:21-43)
  • Jesus welcomed and blessed the children that were brought to him, over the objections of his disciples.  (Matthew 19:13-14 Mark 10:13-14 Luke 18:15-16)
  • Jesus used the faith of a child as the benchmark for true faith. (Matthew 18:3 Matthew 18:4 Mark 10:15 Luke 18:17)

Because children are so precious to God, we should be careful about how we view and treat children.

  • We need to see children as blessings and wonders, not as inconveniences, annoyances, or accessories. Children take time and effort, and are not often convenient, but we must see them as worth the investment.
  • We must commit ourselves to training our children, not only in the practical things of life, but in faith and virtues. We must be careful and intentional in the way we teach our children at home (directly and indirectly) and in the choices we make regarding both their academic and religious education.
  • We should strive to see our children the way that God sees them, as valuable individuals with immense potential. David’s family scoffed at the idea of him being anointed as King of Israel, but as God told Samuel, we are quick to judge by what we see on the outside, not what is hidden on the inside. (1 Samuel 16:7)
  • We need to remember that every child is valuable as a person and is “precious in His sight”. Having taught many children, I can tell you that it is sometimes hard to remember that the child who constantly tests your nerves and pushes the boundaries is just as precious as the one who always obeys and seeks to please. Our human nature tempts us to value the pleasant and easy things in life more than the difficult. But if we believe that every single child is created in God’s image and is made directly by Him for a specific purpose, we must learn to value every child equally. Does that make them easier to deal with? Some days yes, some days no; but it does help us keep our perspective. The good news is that if we are dealing with our children (or students) according to God’s ways, the most difficult ones often become the ones who make the biggest positive mark on the world later in life. Keep the big picture in mind!
  • Finally, we need to remind ourselves that we are God’s children, no matter our age. (1 John 3:2) As His children, we are loved far beyond what our minds can grasp. You are a blessing, a wonder, a valuable individual with immense potential. You, my friends, are “precious in His sight”!

Keep Smiling!