Enjoying the Ride

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The other night we decided we would spend the evening looking at some Christmas lights. After paying $15 to drive through a display that was considerably short of impressive, we decided to drive across the county to check out another one that came highly recommended.

The thing I haven’t told you is that there were seven of us so in order for us to all drive together in the same car, two people would have to sit in the rarely used backseat. I really thought we’d have more fun if we went together so I offered to sit there. After all, my car was made to “seat 7”. My son-in-law offered to sit there, as well, and so we both climbed into the back. This was our first clue that it was going to be tight.

We weren’t back there more than 30 seconds before we realized that the backseat was definitely not meant for adults. With the two of us sitting a bit sideways and with our knees to our chests, we all set off on our adventure.

The first part of the evening wasn’t too bad. After about 15 minutes we stopped for dinner. And then another 15 minutes after that we drove through the first display. But the last ride–the one across the county– ended up taking over 30 minutes (maybe closer to 45). This is when it started to stretch my patience just a bit. We were going on a back country road and I started to feel a bit carsick. And then the other dynamic was that no one listened to us. We’d try to join the conversation but we were back so far, we were generally ignored because it was so hard to hear us.

About halfway through that drive I was starting to get annoyed. My bad knee was starting to hurt, I was extremely uncomfortable, and the carsickness was really starting to get to me. And it was around that time that it hit me: I can choose to focus on the negative or I can enjoy the ride. After all, here I was, with two of our kids and their families, having a good time together. What a blessing! I recognized that I had so much to be thankful for, even if I was temporarily squished into a seat that was meant for children. And, thankfully, our son-in-law has a good sense of humor and made the ride in the back much more enjoyable than if I would have been back there alone.

Ironically, when we finally arrived, we found out to our dismay that the display was in front of us. As we parked the car in preparation for the light show, we realized that we wouldn’t even have a good view to watch. We just had to laugh.

And that was my Friday night.

But I couldn’t help thinking about this in relation to all of life (of course!)

So often we are on a ride we don’t enjoy and we can’t get off. We can’t change it, we can’t fix it, we can’t stop it. We just have to ride through it. But the one thing we can choose is what attitude we are going to have as we take our undesired ride. We can choose to be joyful or we can choose to complain. We can choose to rely and lean on the Lord or we can choose to focus on our own feelings and despair. Keep in mind that we are going to have to take the ride either way. It’s non-negotiable. Having a negative attitude isn’t going to change anything or make anything better (in fact, it will make it worse), while having a joyful attitude not only makes us more pleasant to be around, it is also a dramatic testimony of God’s grace, mercy, and love that is provided to His children during the tough times.

This is a hard lesson for many of us to learn. I feel like I am writing to myself here, quite honestly. I struggle so with this. We have come to have certain expectations in life. We want life to be convenient and comfortable and easy. And so when the road turns a little bumpy and we are stuck in the backseat, we can tend to grow a little discontent and grumpy. But that isn’t going to help anyone–especially ourselves. And, most importantly, it reveals that we don’t really trust God’s plan for our lives. It truly is an affront to God’s Sovereignty, if you think about it.

Isn’t it amazing what you can be reminded of on a ride through the country?

 

Romans 8:28-30

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Isaiah 45:9

Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
    a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
    or ‘Your work has no handles’?

Daniel 4:34-35

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

 

Meeting Ella (Part 3)

Charlie

MeetingElla

This is the third installment in this season’s Christmas story. Hope you are enjoying it!

      Morning came far too quickly after my restless night. Dragging myself out of bed, I got ready for the day and then made myself some toast. Last night’s events played through my mind as I ate my breakfast and, thankfully, my fears were considerably diminished in the bright morning sunshine. Of course, houses make strange noises—especially hundred year old farm houses. I would just have to get used to it.
      Perhaps a dog would help. It was so disconcerting being in this house completely alone—especially at night. I put my dishes in the sink and grabbed my coat, excited for today’s adventure.
      The first stop was the local Walmart to buy some pet supplies. The brightly colored collars and leashes drew my eye. I picked out a medium-sized, green polka-dotted collar, with a leash to match. That seemed to be the safest selection, as it could be used for a male or female medium-sized dog. My cart was soon loaded with dog food, dog treats, bowls, pet shampoo, and a big, over-sized dog bed. I walked by the crates and realized that this was probably going to be a necessity, as well. Who knew how well-behaved this dog would be? And so a medium-sized crate went in on top of everything else. I carefully wheeled my cart to the front and through the checkout. I watched as the the items began to add up to an exorbitant amount. Shopping sprees like this would have to be extremely rare these next few months.
      A half hour later, I was walking through the concrete hallways of the local shelter. There was certainly no dearth of dogs from which to choose. There were big ones and small ones, ferocious ones and friendly ones. How would I ever choose just one? And then I saw him. He sat calmly in the corner of his cage but as I approached his tail started wagging fiercely. He greeted me like a perfect gentleman—happily but without that over-the-top excitement that some dogs have. Short brown hair with a small white patch on his chest and medium-sized, I knew he was just right for me. His name was Charlie and it suited him perfectly. Charlie it was.
      Soon all of the paperwork was signed, the small fee was paid, and we were on our way home. Charlie was amazing right from the start. He sat quietly in the car looking out the window.
      As the car pulled into the driveway, Charlie’s tail started wagging as if to say “What an adventure!” He hopped out and excitedly started to explore his new home. He followed me into the house and happily continued his exploration. Finally, he flopped down beside me in the kitchen to watch me prepare my lunch. His brown, soulful eyes silently asked me to share.
      “Oh, alright!” I laughed as I threw a bit of cheese down to him.
      After lunch, I decided to decorate for Christmas. Sure, only Charlie and I would really appreciate it, but somehow it just felt like the right thing to do. And so, turning the switch on at the bottom of the steps, up to the attic I went. Charlie followed me up the narrow stairway, sniffing all the way. It was clear that he was overjoyed with his newfound freedom. I found the Christmas decorations in the back right corner of the attic, just where I had put them last year and the year before that and, well, for forever. There were boxes upon boxes. Gram sure had loved Christmas.
      I opened the first box and found the tree decorations. I pushed that box towards the staircase. The second held Christmas-themed linens and tablecloths. Deeming them unnecessary, at least for this Christmas season, I pushed that one to the side. Continuing on in this manner for another thirty minutes, six boxes were soon waiting at the top of the stairs.
      One by one, I lifted them and carried them downstairs to the dining room, almost tripping over Charlie a few times as he followed on my heels. But he was such a welcome addition to the house that I just couldn’t grow angry with him so I just laughed and gently scolded him.
      After all of the boxes were down, I made myself a cup of coffee and decided to sit down for a few minutes. My rough night soon caught up with me and I found myself dozing off. At least, until Charlie started barking at the sound of the doorbell. Who could that be? I peeked out the front window. Mrs. Miller stood there smiling, holding a candy-cane striped tin. Beside her stood a young woman with brown hair wearing a navy pea coat.
      Opening the door, I welcomed them inside.
      “Hello, dear! I hope we aren’t bothering you. I just couldn’t wait for you to meet my granddaughter. Katie, this is Libby. Libby, Kate. I am just sure you two will get along fabulously,” She gestured from one to the other as we gave each other tentative—and rather awkward—smiles.
      And then she continued, “And I just happened to do some baking this morning, so we brought some cookies along. They are the peanut butter kind with the Hershey Kisses on top. They are Jim’s favorite,” She winked as she handed me the tin and then started to look around, “Oh, so many memories here. We used to come and play games with your Grandma. I sure do miss her.”
      And then she spotted the boxes of decorations in the dining room, “Oh! Did we interrupt you?”
      “Well, I actually didn’t get very far yet,” I glanced at my watch and saw that it was already 3:30pm, “I will do what I can today and then finish tomorrow. There’s really no big hurry. Can I get you some coffee?”
      I saw Mrs. Miller turn to Katie and ask her a question before she turned back to me with a surprising question, “Libby, darling, could Katie and I help you decorate? We’d love to help and, besides, decorating by yourself is really not near as much fun as decorating with friends!” (She had such a warm and rather loud enthusiasm as she said this), “Kate assured me that she has a few spare hours. So why don’t you go make coffee and put on some Christmas music and we will have ourselves a wonderful time. What do you say?”
      Truth be told, I really wanted to decorate alone. I wanted to take my time going through the old, familiar things and I wanted to be able to cry if I felt like crying. But Mrs. Miller was a force to be reckoned with and so, hiding my disappointment, I pasted on a smile and told her I’d love to have their help. I put on some Christmas music and then went to the kitchen and made three cups of hot coffee and put a few of the cookies from the tin on a plate. Charlie quietly stared at me and rubbed his nose on my legs as if to tell me he understood and was sorry for how things had turned out.
      But, surprisingly, the next three hours flew by in a flurry of activity and merriment. First, we set up and decorated Gram’s three artificial trees–The old-fashioned one in the living room; the formal one, bedecked with gold and silver, in the dining room; and the smallest one, decorated with simple bows and silk poinsettias, in the foyer. Next, we filled the banisters and mantel with green garland, white lights, gold stars, and tiny crocheted angels. I pulled Gram’s collection of porcelain angels from their careful wrapping and set them around on every possible surface. Finally, we worked outside to put the garland and lights around the door. Kate had even helped me pull Uncle Gus’s manger scene out of the old shed. I stood back with a great sense of satisfaction. Mrs. Miller was right—it had been so much more fun to accomplish this with friends.
      Throughout the whole afternoon, Mrs. Miller was so wonderful—both sharing snippets about Gram and also letting me reflect in silence at times. And she was right about Kate and me. We hit it off immediately—like we had been friends our whole lives.
      As I waved good-bye to them, I smiled, so thankful for them. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad here, after all. Kate and I had already made plans to go Christmas shopping together. It was as I stood with my back against the door, thanking the Lord for His kind mercies to me, that I spotted it.
      I squinted to be sure I saw it correctly. Under the dining room table was a small red mitten.
      Where had that come from?  It had definitely not been there when I vacuumed yesterday.
      Picking it up and turning it over, I saw that it was a little girl’s left mitten.
      Startled, I began to suspect that the owner of the mitten and the owner of the purple sweater upstairs were probably the same little girl. And now I was beginning to wonder if the little owner might be in this house. That feeling of not being alone yesterday came to my mind. And, too, the odd open window last night. On a sudden hunch, I ran up the stairs to Gram’s sewing room.
      I was right. The purple sweater was gone and the rumpled covers on the bed were pulled up towards the pillow as if someone had tried to make it in a hurry. It became clear that I was not alone in this house.
      As I stood there for a few moments wondering what to do, Charlie was wildly sniffing around the room, as if to confirm my suspicions.
      My tummy growled, reminding me that it was long past dinnertime. I prepared a ham and cheese sandwich and put it on a plate with a handful of potato chips, all the while my ears listening for any possible sound. She had to be around here somewhere.
      After dinner, I decided to go on an all-out hunt for this little person. I checked in closets, under beds, and behind dressers. Overcoming my fear, I looked in both the cellar and the attic, moving boxes and crates. I couldn’t find anything. I didn’t even see any more clues that would verify her existence. Perhaps I was just dreaming this all up. I remembered Mrs. Miller saying she taught Sunday School. Perhaps she had had the mitten in her coat pocket for some reason, I rationalized.
      Feeling rather silly, I sat back down into the comfortable blue chair and turned on the TV. Soon I was engrossed in Christmas in Connecticut and forgot about my musings and speculations.
      That is until Charlie started barking like crazy.
      “Charlie! Stop!” Maybe a dog wasn’t such a good idea, after all. It was a little frightening to have a dog madly barking in an old house and having no idea why. I grabbed his collar and looked him the eye, “Stop!”
      He didn’t listen to me. In fact, he wriggled out of my grasp and ran to the cellar steps, growling and barking all the way.
      I opened the door and he rushed past me, down into the darkness. Flipping the switch, I saw that the basement window was open once again. How had that happened?
      And then I saw her. Standing at the bottom of the steps. She looked to be around nine. Soft, wheat-colored hair and pale skin. She had on a red wool coat that was stained and ripped at the hem and one red mitten. Tears welled up in her startlingly blue eyes as Charlie rushed at her.
      “Aw, honey, don’t cry,” I shushed Charlie away and then sat down on the steps, helplessly uncertain as to what to do. A million questions danced through my mind, begging to be answered all at once.
      I grabbed the girl’s cold, mittenless left hand and gave it a warm squeeze, before softly asking, “What’s your name?”
      She took her mittened hand and rubbed it across her face to remove the tears that had started a quiet trail down her cheeks. She took a deep breath and then said faintly, “I’m Ella.”
      Ella. So this was who I had been sharing my house with for the past couple of days.

Find Part 1 of this story here.

Serving All, All the Time

Serving All

This is the time of year that we focus on giving. Much of the giving is focused on children. We fill shoe boxes and purchase toys to give to local charities. It is rewarding to watch our children’s excitement as they walk with us through the store and help to pick out toys and toothbrushes and socks for children across the world or in their own neighborhood. It is truly a wonderful opportunity to touch the world with the love of Christ.

Giving to children is so special. There is something especially delightful about it. And Christmastime is such a fun time to give. There are so many different opportunities available that it doesn’t take much work for us to be part of something greater than ourselves. Perhaps we should use this time of year as a catalyst for change– a change that yields a life that intentionally gives and serves all year long.

There are some things to consider as we evaluate our lifestyle of service.

Children are wonderful, but there are so many elderly people who have no family to visit them. They sit, sad and lonely, throughout the year, wondering if anybody cares. Do they have the same value as a child? We would answer of course because we know that is the “right” answer but do we live it out by our actions?

And do we give all year long or do we only serve and give during this one little window of time during the year? Are we practicing a life of service all year long or do we live a life of self-absorption that disappears for a short time at Christmastime?

Time goes so fast. We will be back to our normal routine again before we know it. This holiday season seems a good time to consider our patterns of giving and serving.

Many people have set examples for me in this area of serving others throughout the year, but one example that made an impact on me was something my mother-in-law did when I was a young mother. She would take my kids along with her to the local nursing home to visit a few of the elderly from our church. As a pastor’s wife, it was a way she could bring a little sunshine and joy to their lives. At the time, I didn’t realize just what a service of love this was. Most older people love kids. As I watched her set this good example and as I grew braver and more mature, I hesitantly decided to try it myself. I say “braver”, because my greatest fear was that I wouldn’t know what to say.

So one day I gathered my children and we set off in our minivan. How do you talk to an elderly person that you don’t really know? But what I found was that, especially with kids along, there is rarely an awkward moment. I figured out how to ask lots of questions and we would learn so much about the past. (The incredible upside of this is that so many of these older people have so much to teach us. If we will just take the time, we can learn so much.)

But this post is not just about giving of ourselves to elderly people. Are we serving and encouraging our pastors, and other church members such as the single parents, the downcast and depressed, the sick and weary, and those who are struggling financially? These should all be on our radar throughout the whole year.

There are many ways we can encourage, serve, and build them up. We can do this by sending a card or an email. We can do this by babysitting; providing meals, if needed; by just sitting and talking after church instead of rushing out the door. And, of course, we can do this by praying for them. There are many more ways we can love and serve others.

One of the things I try to do is to think about what I would want someone to do for me if I were in their situation. And you know what? Sometimes I am the one who needs encouraged. Sometimes I need to be the recipient of the love and service of my church family. I have been there, too. And this may be one of the best things about being part of a church family–the love and care we take of each other. Learning to receive gracefully and gratefully is a topic for another post.

As I write this, I can see how I have failed in this area of serving others in such a big way. I can be so blind. I often find myself so caught up in my own agenda that I lose sight of those who need to be encouraged, built up, and supported.

But scripture continues to prod me (and hopefully you, too!) into a holier and more obedient life that is filled with love for others. I Peter 4:10-11 exhorts us to serve one another–

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I John 4:7-8 exhorts us to love one another–

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

And I Thessalonians 5:11 exhorts us to encourage one another–

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

These passages are particularly referring to the Church. This is our first priority–serving other Christian brothers and sisters, loving and taking care of each other in a way that unifies the church and causes the world to step back and wonder what we have that they don’t have.

Scripture will not let us go. It continues to draw us to a more mature faith, showing us how we fail and where we need to grow. Christmas season is a great time to evaluate our life of service.

May we broaden our horizons and see that needs abound across all classes, races, and ages of people. May we never miss an opportunity to share the Gospel as we give to those that don’t know Christ. And may we be especially sensitive to the needs of our Christian brothers and sisters both here and across the world as we faithfully serve and give throughout the whole year!

 

 

Meeting Ella (Part 2)

Noises in the Night

MeetingElla

This is the second installment in this year’s Christmas Story. Hope you enjoy it! (If you’d like to read Part 1, you can find it here.)

     By 7pm, the big house was feeling a bit more like my old home. I had even dusted and swept. I sighed with contentment. The fond memories of this place filled me with a peace I hadn’t known for quite some time. Of course, there was a big empty hole without Gram here. And something else was missing, too. What was it?
     I walked through the house and made my way to the living room. Spotting the braided rug in front of the hearth, it came to me. It was Snoopy. It was just not the same here without the little black dog that used to follow me around everywhere I went.
     With the flip of a switch a fire came to life in the fireplace insert Uncle Gus and I had talked Gram into buying awhile back. The comfortable overstuffed blue chair by the stone hearth was the perfect place to do a little day dreaming. I allowed my mind to travel back in time to that moment when Gram had finally allowed me to get a dog. Driving to the local shelter and giddy with excitement, I had found the happiest puppy there and named him Snoopy–after my favorite cartoon dog. From the beginning, our relationship was special. We became fast friends and were inseparable. I was heart broken when he died during my freshman year of college. I had longed for another dog ever since, but apartment living and a demanding job just didn’t make it possible. Of course, all that had changed now.
     Wait! Yes, all that had changed! What was holding me back? I grew excited as I considered the prospect of owning a dog again. In fact, I could feasibly go back to that same shelter and find a new dog. What quicker way was there to shoo away the loneliness of this house than with a new canine friend? Tomorrow grew into an exciting adventure as I pondered this idea.
     I was jolted back to reality as my mind turned to my job situation. That was of grave concern. I didn’t need to worry about it for a few months but those months would go by fast. I shook my head, as if to free it of the troublesome thoughts and grabbed my keys. That problem would have to wait until tomorrow as I had a much more important priority currently–a grumbling belly that was urging me to eat.
     I drove into town and pulled into Martha’s Diner. As I munched on a hamburger and fries, I looked around, hoping to see a familiar face but saw not a one. It had been over ten years since I had lived in the area. Things do change.
     Feeling rather lonely and out-of-place, I pulled out my iPhone and started scrolling through Facebook. The happy faces of my city friends provided a sobering reminder of all that I had given up. Photos of adorable children and beautifully decorated homes reminded me that I didn’t fit in with my married friends, either. In fact, I didn’t really fit into any world at the moment. It was rather disconcerting.
     “Libby? Libby Barnwell?”
     I glanced up to see a smiling, older couple staring at me.
     “Mr. and Mrs. Miller? How nice to see you,” I gave the older lady a warm hug and then turned to Mr. Miller to shake his hand, but, he, too, pulled me into a big hug. This couple, dear friends of my Gram, provided just the dose of encouragement I needed. We chatted for several minutes about life and change and then they made me promise that I would be at church on Sunday.
     “We will save you a seat, dear. We always sit about six rows back on the right and will look for you. And please plan on having lunch with us afterward. Our granddaughter, Katie, is living with us currently and I think you two would really get along. Don’t you think so, Jim? She’s in grad school at the local university so she is living with us for awhile,” said Mrs. Miller. And then with one final hug, they walked out of the diner.
     Thank you, Lord. Thank you for bringing a familiar face. That was exactly what I needed.
     I had one last cup of coffee and then paid my bill. Glancing at my watch, I saw that I had time to run by the grocery store to pick up a few things. My trip to the store didn’t take very long and soon I was back at home unloading my car in the bitter wind. Dropping the last bag on the table and locking the door behind me, I reached up to feel my cold cheeks. Winter had certainly arrived.
     I quickly put everything away and then checked the clock above the sink. Only 9:30pm. The sound of the wind drew me to take refuge in my comfortable, childhood bed and so, grabbing a book from my backpack, I made my way upstairs and got ready for bed. I snuggled down into the blankets and down comforter and then sniffed. These would definitely need a good airing tomorrow.
     Engrossed in my book a few minutes later, I froze when, suddenly, I heard a creak coming from the direction of the stairs.
     I strained to hear anything further, but nothing came. After what seemed like hours (but was probably only a few minutes), I returned to my book. Wait! There it was again! Someone was definitely in this house. I immediately realized my vulnerable situation. No weapons. No friends. No family. I was quite defenseless. I didn’t even know a phone number of a neighbor, for goodness’ sake.
     I started to panic. I tried to calm myself by remembering that old houses make noises. It was windy tonight. It was probably the wind.
     It was just the wind.
     I lay there for a few more minutes but couldn’t shake the idea that someone was in the house. I decided to go check. Anything was better than laying in my bed paralyzed in fear. I glanced around for some kind of weapon. The only thing I spotted was a small glass candlestick on the dresser. I picked it up and held it in front of me with one hand and opened the door with the other. I must have made quite a site, me tiptoeing quietly across the room in my snowflake print pajamas, polka-dot slippers, and carrying a glass candlestick as my only mode of protection against who knew what?
     I peeked out of my room and looked both ways. Nothing. I cautiously stepped out into the hallway. I crept down the stairs and explored the first level. It didn’t seem as if anything had been disturbed. I hesitated at the cellar door. Even in the daytime, I hated the cellar. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t check it out and so I opened the door, switched on the light, and started down the steps. Halfway down the L-shaped steps was a window that stood wide open. Each gust of wind would cause it to move and creak just a bit.
     An open window would definitely cause strange noises on a windy night. I sighed with relief and quickly shut and locked it. From my vantage point of the steps, I looked around the forgotten room. It was piled high with Gram’s stuff and someone could easily hide there. This thought gave me no comfort.
     At that point, I realized that I had a decision to make. I could either trust the Lord to take care of me or I could choose to be fearful. God and I had a close relationship. He had saved me from my sins and He promised to care for me. My job was to trust Him and not cave in to fear. With a prayer for protection, I headed back to bed, trusting that He would keep me safe through the night.
     A few minutes later I was tucked under the stale-smelling covers and, after an hour or two of laying there listening to the weird noises an old house makes at night, I finally drifted off into a troubled sleep.

Four Ways to Love Our Men

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I awoke yesterday to hear that Matt Lauer had been fired. Now, I knew he was extremely left-leaning and a typical reporter, but, as newscasters go, I did think he seemed like a nice guy.

As I tried to wrap my brain around the latest casualty of the sexual harassment and abuse accusations, I felt sad. There have been several over the past few months and, while not surprising, they are just…sad. I know as much about these guys and their accusers as I do about the peanut head bug (yes, a real insect) that lives in the Amazon Rainforest (i.e. nothing), so I have no idea what the truth really is and I will refrain from sharing any opinions on such tragic situations. But perhaps these accusations can raise a conversation that we Christian women should probably have.

Let’s think for a moment about men.

Men love sex.

Sure, there are exceptions, but as a rule, most men were created by God to love sex. As young men, they can hardly go a few minutes without thinking about it. This obsession might diminish slightly as they grow older but their love for it remains. Men love sex.

And Hollywood and marketers use this love for sex to achieve ratings and sales. Anywhere you turn, sex is being sold. It doesn’t matter if it’s a war movie or a commercial for deodorant, sex is often what’s for sale. It is appalling.

On our TV screens, fornication and naked bodies abound. Crude and dirty jokes are the norm. And many–even Christians– just watch, with nary a thought to turn it off. Radios croon out lyrics encouraging premarital sex, cheating, and all other varieties of sexual sins and it is justified by the excuse that it’s only the tune they like–they are not listening to the words. (Impossible, by the way, since your subconscious mind hears everything.)

The internet is loaded with pornography that is hard to escape. Even a simple search on a site we consider safe will sometimes bring naked images to our screen.

And this push to sell sex has reached us in personal ways we never imagined. Co-workers show cleavage, church ladies wear short skirts. Even at homecoming dances, our teenagers wear the latest styles that leave little to the imagination–torturous for the young men accompanying them.

Men cannot escape the constant battle and efforts of this culture to remove the purity of their minds. There is nowhere they can turn. Even in church this battle is fought, as even the sanctuary is no longer a sacred place where a man can get away from women who are dressed immodestly.

I think we can see that Satan has hijacked sex. Literally. He has mangled and destroyed it, warped it and corrupted it until it has become something Christians don’t even want to talk about. But sex is a beautiful gift from God the Father. He designed it specifically for a married couple. And when used in this way God is not only pleased but He is also glorified.

And so we can see that there are two utterly opposing views–the world’s view of sex and God’s view of sex. And Christian men are often caught in the cross-hairs of these two viewpoints–knowing the view they should have, but constantly being pulled to the world’s side of things wherever they go.

So while a man is absolutely and completely responsible for his own sexual purity, I do want to raise the conversation that there are four things we women can do to help our Christian brothers as they fight this tough battle of purity in their own lives–

1. As girls and women, we can dress modestly. As parents, we can require our daughters to do the same, explaining that this is a way we can show Christian love to the boys and men around us. We can make sure that we and our daughters are clothed in such a way that it doesn’t lead a man to think sexual thoughts.

2. As moms, we must keep our young and teen-aged boys away from sexually impure entertainment and work hard to protect them from online pornography. We can and should help our husbands in this area as much as we are able to, as well. This may well be one of the most challenging and important jobs we will ever take on.

3. As women who love the men in our lives, we can pray for them. Pray hard, that God would protect them as they walk through a world that is obsessed with sex at almost every turn.

4. And as wives, we must be sure to love our husbands in all ways, including in the bedroom. God designed sex to be beautiful and wonderful in its biblical context. If our husbands don’t feel loved in this way we leave them open to temptation.

 

Life is often ugly and messy. This is one of those things we don’t even like to talk about. But sometimes things just need to be said. Again–let me be clear–men are 100% responsible for their thoughts and actions. They will be accountable to God for what they think and what they do. But I hope, as Christian women, we can come alongside our Christian brothers in love and support as they fight to stay pure in a culture fixated on sex.

 

 

Meeting Ella (Part 1)

Moving into the Farmhouse

MeetingElla

One of my favorite things to do is to write fiction, which doesn’t fit very well with the purpose of this blog. However, at Christmastime last year, I broke away from my typical posts and presented the story A Candle in the Window. I decided to do the same thing again this year. And so I hope you enjoy this year’s story, which will be presented on Mondays throughout this December. It is called Meeting Ella and here is Part 1, “Moving into the Farmhouse”

     I approached the front door with a combination of fear and nostalgia, the wind whipping my hair into my eyes. The front of the big farm house looked so forlorn. The last time I was here it was Christmastime. Garland with twinkling white lights had hung over the door. Big red pots that held miniature Christmas trees had sat like guards on each side of the steps. And out in the lawn had been the wooden nativity made by my Uncle Gus.
     I sighed with sadness as I pulled the key out of my coat pocket and placed it into the deadbolt on the door. What a difference a year can make.
     Had it only been six months since Gram had died? It felt so much longer than that…and so much shorter. My parents had died in a car accident when I was just a baby. My grandparents had raised me. Grandpa had died two years ago and Uncle Gus a year before that. I was truly alone now.
     I pushed in the big wooden door and hesitantly stepped inside to the entry way. The stale smell of an unlived-in house assaulted my nose. I walked through the familiar rooms downstairs, pulling sheets off the furniture amidst clouds of dust.
     I had called the utility companies last week to assure I would have electric and water when I arrived. Tomorrow I’d call about setting up wifi.
     I ended up in the kitchen, where I plugged in the refrigerator and stove and pushed them back to the wall, relieved to hear the hum of the refrigerator as it started up.
     The magnitude of what I was doing suddenly hit me. Did I know what I had gotten myself into?
     As Gram’s only living relative, I had inherited the house. My first thought had been to put it on the market immediately. But there was something that held me back. Maybe it was the memories. After all, it was the only home I had ever known.
     I decided to give myself a few months to think about it and during that time I had lost my graphic design job when my company was bought out. I remembered the conversation well. We are sorry, Libby. We treasure your talent and wish we could keep you but the other company already has a designer on staff and we don’t need two. Please feel free to ask us for a recommendation. We wish you the best. And that was that. I had worked two more weeks and then took my small severance package, packed up my office, and walked out the door.
     But what had seemed devastating at the time started to look like the purpose of God leading me back to this house. My job was the main thing holding me back from moving. Now I didn’t have any excuses left.
     And so I had sold my furniture, packed up what was left in my Jeep Cherokee, and traveled across the state to my hometown. And here I was on a cold, windy night in December.
     I shouldn’t have come back at Christmastime. I realized that now. Anytime would have been difficult but December was by far the worst. Gram had loved Christmas. It had been the most special time of the year. Even last year, when she was really slowing down due to her heart failure, I had hauled the boxes out of the attic and she had sat, her knees covered with a bright red afghan, and directed me with her smiley face and twinkly eyes.
     I sat down on a kitchen chair and laid my head on my arms. My shoulders started to shake. Christmas would never be the same again. Never.
     I must have sat there for fifteen minutes, sobbing, when suddenly I got the distinct impression that someone was watching me. My eyes scanned the nearby doorway and then moved around the room. I didn’t see anyone. I wiped my face on my sleeve, stood up, and looked around a bit before chalking it up to my imagination.
     I shrugged and decided to head upstairs, eager to see my old bedroom. As I walked up the creaky stairs, the strangeness and unfamiliarity of being in this big old house by myself assailed me. It was not a pleasant feeling. But I had sold everything now and didn’t have much of a choice but to stay here. At least for a little while, as I decided what to do next.
     I found my bedroom very much like I had left it, which was incredibly comforting to me. I sat down on the edge of my bed and sighed. I was home. Even without Gram, it felt like home. This feeling renewed my energy and I jumped from the bed to go get my stuff. I glanced in some of the other bedrooms on the way, just for old times’ sake. Uncle Gus’s room still had the plaid bedspread and dark oak furniture. And there was Gram’s room with the delicate floral wallpaper. I checked out the guest room, made up with one of Gram’s lavender quilts. And then, finally, headed down to the last tiny room on the right. I remembered that this room held a twin bed and Gram’s sewing machine. It was one of my favorite rooms in the house and I remembered many hours playing on the floor with my puzzles and dolls while she sewed and quilted there.
     However, I was not prepared for what I found in that room. The bed looked like it had been slept in the night before, unmade and unkempt. There was a small cup of water by the bedside, along with a girl’s sweater. I picked up the purple sweater and stared at it. It was a size 10, faded, with a tear at the elbow. Questions came to me in rapid succession. Had Gram had a young visitor here when she died? And who in the world had it been? And where was she now? And why hadn’t Gram bought her a new sweater?
     Oh, well. Those were questions for another day. For now, I needed to go get my stuff and move in. I ran lightly down the stairs and out to my car, ready to unload my things. Tomorrow I would get out the Christmas decorations. It was a good day.
     I was home.

 

Continue to PART 2

 

Every Life

father-1633655_1920

Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to see our daughter’s college soccer team play for a National title. They won the first game easily and as we sat watching the warm-ups for the championship game, my husband leaned over and made his prediction of the outcome. He thought our girls could easily beat this other team. They weren’t as skilled and their bench wasn’t as deep. But there were two things that he didn’t see–first, this team really wanted to win and second, he didn’t realize the skill and tenacity of #7. As the game started we could see a fight was on. As the final minutes of regular game time wore down, the score remained 0-0.

As we headed into the first ten minute overtime, the play continued to go back and forth and remain scoreless. It was now sudden death. The first team to score was going to win this championship. With only 1:40 to go, there was a foul and we were given a direct kick. We held our breath as one of our seniors stepped up to take it. She kicked the ball and we watched it sail over the heads of the defenders and then over the head of the goalie to land perfectly in the corner of the goal. (It was actually a very dramatic and pretty awesome way to win such an important game!) The crowd roared and the team ran together and cheered and jumped and hugged. The game was over and we had won because of one kick. What a night for this senior! I am sure she will never forget it.

Don’t you just love when you have moments like this? The perfect kick or hit or shot. The musical piece or dramatic act that is played just right. The phone calls offering the perfect job or the accepted bid for your perfect house or even better yet– the good results of a health test; the rare moments when the whole family is together, having fun, and getting along. The moments of everything working out perfectly. These are beautiful, awesome moments that fill us with joy and inspire us to keep going.

And then there are the other moments…

That same day, after the game, kind ladies prepared a meal for the soccer families. The setup was in a class room, so it wasn’t ideal. But they worked with what they had and did it well. We went through the line and then sat down to eat. Suddenly, we heard a loud crash. We saw one of the hard-working ladies grab some paper towels and bend over to the floor.  As we left the room, we realized that she had knocked down the five gallon container of punch that had sat a bit insecurely on its makeshift surface. My heart went out to her as she and several other ladies mopped up the mess as best they could with school paper towels. I felt bad for her because I’ve been there. Often.

These are the moments we don’t love as much. Embarrassing moments; sad moments; angry moments. The moments we knock something over, or break something; the moments we find out a diagnosis we didn’t expect; or get the call to the boss’s office or the notice from the bank. Spouses walk away from marriages, kids make bad choices, and death comes knocking at the most unexpected times. These are the moments that make us feel insecure, unloved, unhappy, and, sometimes, hopeless.

You may think it naive of me to lump all of the bad moments together. Some are so much worse than others. But my point is this: they are all bad on some level. We don’t have any interest in living them over. Ever.

And every life is made up of ordinary moments interspersed with extra-special, wonderful moments and the frustrating or dreadful bad moments. And this is just how it is. There isn’t anything we can do about it. It just IS.

But so often there seems to be this goal to only live in the wonderful. Doesn’t it seem as if so many of us are constantly searching to live on the happy plane of the extra-special moments? And this is such an unrealistic expectation. I am not sure if it came from movies or romance novels or preachers that don’t preach from the Word, but many of us seem to have an expectation that our lives should be filled with special moments all the time. That to live just an ordinary life is somehow not enough. Some even go a step further and say that to experience bad moments means we are disobedient in how we are living our Christian lives. Of course, we know there is zero biblical basis for this belief and yet some people actually believe this.

But life–thankfully–is made up mostly of the ordinary for most of us. Our ordinaries change often, but somehow we adjust and grow comfortable with our new normals.

Every life experiences the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the wonderful days and the really hard days and a whole lot of ordinary days. We love the wonderful days. They are pretty awesome. But they can never be sustained. Sometimes they are far and few between. And we really don’t like the hard days. They are long and dark and can go on for weeks. But ordinary–that place where there are no big woes or worries; the place where we often find ourselves discontent–that place is truly an often unnoticed but remarkable blessing.

And so as we reflect on our year and think about Thanksgiving this week, it may be good to be intentional about not setting our expectations so high that we find ourselves in a constant state of discontent. But, instead, may we find ourselves grateful for the excitement and beauty of the good moments; may we acknowledge God’s Sovereignty and be looking to learn and grow from the bad moments; and may we enjoy and be grateful for the peace and beauty of the ordinary days that make up most of our lives.

 

Freezing Out Fear

With a Spirit of Gratitude

freezing

The other evening, as my family discussed the recent terrible church shooting, my father-in-law shook his head.

“Can you imagine discussing something like this twenty years ago??” he asked incredulously.

No, we can’t. Because we wouldn’t have. Oh, bad things happened and there have always been evil men and women. But this. This is just beyond anything we could have imagined.

And then someone else mentioned how frequent these things are becoming. The shock is almost wearing off because these types of events are becoming monthly–sometimes weekly.

And this can breed fear in some of us, making us wonder–when will it be us? Or someone close to us?

Or it could be something else that makes us fearful; some other anxiety that is stealing our peace and joy. There are innumerable causes for fear in our lives.

For some of us, this fear can turn into a life full of anxiety and worry, turning our happy smiles into frowns of concern. Fear is a mighty master, controlling our lives with an iron fist.

Of course, much of this comes from not taking Matthew 6:35-34 very seriously. As I have battled my own fears about a variety of things, these verses keep coming to mind–

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

But how do we freeze out the fear that threatens to undo us? What can we do to help eradicate the sins of worry and anxiety from our lives?

I believe one of the most underrated things we can do to help us overcome fear is to cultivate a heart of gratitude. We learn this from Philippians 4:6-7–

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Do you see that little phrase in there?

With thanksgiving.

How often do we practice this as we face our fears and anxieties? Do we come to God with a thankful heart or is gratitude crowded out by the fear that threatens to overwhelm us?

Because you can’t really have both. You can’t be fearful and thankful at the same time. They are mutually exclusive.

Have you ever thought about that before?

And so this week of Thanksgiving, I want to encourage you (and me, too!) to give our hearts and minds to developing a spirit of gratitude. To truly live out Philippians 4 and to be be anxious for nothing, but instead making our requests be known to God with a spirit of thanksgiving. And that is when fear will be frozen out and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds.

 

 

Remembering the Reformation: What’s It Have To Do With Today?

And Resources for Further Study

Reformation

In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I have dedicated about three posts to remembering just what happened during that time. My plan was to delve a little deeper into it and expand–until I recognized a couple of things. First, most of my readers were generally uninterested in reading about the Reformation and so I was doing a ton of research and work for only a few. Which is fine, if not for the second thing I recognized: There are many good people who already did the research and wrote about it. And so, for those of you who are interested, I am going to provide some great places to go to learn more.

But before I do, I want to clarify why I was writing on the Reformation to begin with. My main purpose in writing this series is because the church in 2017 has walked far away from what took place 500 years ago. During the time of the Reformation, Five Solas were developed that took the church back to biblical theology and principles. They were–

Sola Scriptura(Scripture Alone)
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)

(You can read a little more about these Five Solas here.)

In practice, the modern day church has left many of these Solas covered in dust behind them. For example, in its efforts to toss tradition and be modern, the church is uniting with religions that require works for salvation and in its efforts to gratify a congregation that is obsessed with feelings, they are encouraging the people to believe that their personal experiences are the valid and authoritative words of God. And, yet, we can see that if we understand these Five Solas, so much of the confusion in the church today is clarified. It serves us well to reflect on church history as we navigate the current church waters. I found this wonderful article entitled Ten Reasons Why The Reformation is Not Over by Josh Buice over at Delivered by Grace that expounds this thought further. Here are ten reasons why he believes the Reformation isn’t over (and I agree!)–

  1. The Roman Catholic Church has not repented of their perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. Preaching is not, in many evangelical circles, the central mark of the local church.
  3. The present state of the evangelical church is filled with a love for pragmatism and a distaste for robust theology.
  4. The holiness of God is barely referenced much less understood among many evangelical churches.
  5. Worship has become man-centered as opposed to God-centered.
  6. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are often trivialized and minimized.
  7. Church discipline is a missing mark in most evangelical churches in our present day.
  8. Evangelism has been replaced by gimmickry and superficial methods that seek immediate results as opposed to genuine conversion.
  9. Holy living has been replaced by a loose antinomian approach to redeeming the culture.
  10. Church membership has become a shadow of indulgences — one’s ticket to heaven in many evangelical churches.

*pragmatism is doing what works (as opposed to what’s right)
*antinomianism is the belief that Christians are released by grace from the obligation of observing the moral law

(Read the rest of this article here.)

And so we can see that the Reformation will never be over. As long as sinners are at the helm of the church, there will be deception, chicanery, and corruption. While we should never expect a perfect church, we can and should stand and fight for the truth, as it is necessary. The Five Solas can help us understand exactly what is going on and where the church is going wrong. A study of the Reformation is very worth your time and I highly recommend it!

Here are the resources I promised (it is by no means an an exhaustive list, but it will get you started)–

Resources

Luther and the Reformation Series (YouTube series by R.C. Sproul)

Church History Lectures (YouTube series by Ryan Reeves)

The Reformers (Book containing short readable biographies; edited by Chad Stewart)

The Reformation (Book by T.M. Lindsay)

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World (Book by Stephen Nichols)

Reformation Hardware: The Truth Behind Church History’s Greatest Revival (Podcast by Nathan Busenitz)

Celebrating the 500 Years of the Reformation (Video by Nathan Busenitz)

Five Reformation Questions (Video Lecture by Nathan Busenitz)

Misunderstanding the Five Solas (Blog series by Josh Buice)

A List of False Teachings in the Roman Catholic Church (Article at CARM)

The Sufficiency of Scripture (Part 1) (Article by Gary Gilley)

The Sufficiency of Scripture (Part 2) (Article by Gary Gilley)

 

*Please note that I have not read or listened to all of these. Please, as always, be a Berean and compare all you hear and read to the Bible.

 

 

Balanced is Beautiful

Balanced

Have you ever met someone who has a pet topic? Whether it is their kids, their job, a particular sport– they just seem obsessed with this one thing and can hardly keep from talking about it.

We Christians can be like this, too. We should be passionate about Jesus Christ and His Word–that goes without saying, really–but sometimes we can become so passionate about a certain spiritual (and worthy) thing to the point where we are indifferent about all other topics. This can lead us to be very unbalanced as believers.

This is something I have noticed in others and also fight regularly myself. We become passionate about a certain topic (such as discernment, orphans, mission work, the unity of the church, etc…) to the point where we become very one dimensional as believers.

Of course, God uses our different passions to accomplish much for His kingdom. It is not wrong to be passionate about a particular subject. I am thankful for those who are passionate about discernment for they help us to stay on the straight and narrow and spot the falsehood abundant in the church today. I am thankful for those passionate about orphans and missions for they keep us aware of what’s going on and encourage us to make a difference with our prayers, our money, and even our time.

But my caution here is that we don’t become so enamored with one particular topic that we neglect all others completely. We can be wonderfully passionate about finding homes for orphans and still practice discernment. We can practice discernment and still show concern for missions. These things are not mutually exclusive. And yet so often we act like they are.

Of course, the biggest problem facing the church today is probably not even this, is it? As I am thinking about this, I recognize that the thing many people are most fascinated and passionate about is…themselves. I struggle with this, as well. We lose our balance because we are only concerned with our own affairs. We rarely think outside of ourselves and our own needs and when we do, we give ourselves a huge pat on the back and then go on our merry way.

And, yet, the Christian life is clearly to be full of personal growth in obedience and holiness (I Peter 3:10-16), concern for others (Philippians 2:3-4), concern for widows and orphans (James 1:27), separation from the world (James 1:27), a desire to discern truth (Hebrews 5:14), sharing the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20), and unifying together as the body of Christ (Colossians 3:12-15)–to name just a few.

And that’s my point, exactly.

We must give efforts to all of these things. To all of these and to the rest of what scripture teaches. We never want to become spiritually unbalanced, only giving our attention to that which comes easiest or is the most appealing.

Not having the “gift of discernment” doesn’t give us the right to not practice discernment; not being comfortable with evangelizing doesn’t give us the right to not do it; being busy with our families doesn’t give us the right to be unconcerned with widows and orphans.

Being balanced is the key. Not letting ourselves get so caught up with one issue (or with ourselves) that we neglect the whole of scripture. Balanced is truly beautiful and is what we are called to be as believers–paying attention to all that scripture contains and not just our favorite topics and passages. It is in this way that we become well-rounded believers that bring honor to Christ and shine His marvelous light into the dark world.