The Win (and what to do until then)

the win

Isn’t it interesting how schools cycle through their glory years? One year the guys’ basketball team or girls’ soccer team is undefeated and there is enthusiastic school spirit supporting them. And then a season or two later all the glory has ended. Key players or a coach moves on and the dynamics change and suddenly they aren’t the team on top anymore.

The same dynamic plagues most professional sports teams, as well. I am a Philadelphia Phillies fan–no matter if they win or lose. But right now it is bad. Let’s just say that we aren’t watching a lot of baseball this year. It’s just not near as much fun as when they were really doing well and headed to the World Series.

And we are left with one conclusion–

Winning is glorious and losing is not.

A lot of the stories of King David are tales of victory over enemies. Just yesterday, we read of how the Ammonites asked the Syrians to fight with them and after being soundly defeated, we read that the Syrians were afraid “to save the Ammonites anymore” (2 Samuel 10:19). I guess I would have been, too. David had a reputation of being victorious. But King David doesn’t win every battle. We will soon read of his battle with lust that he loses in a big way (2 Samuel 11).  And let’s not forget that just a few years earlier he was fighting for his life as he was chased down by Saul. He eventually became King, but it certainly wasn’t without grief and struggle.

This is what makes life so hard. We win some and we lose some. But some battles are so much more important than others. And what are we to do when we feel like we are losing such critical battles? The battles for–

Our country

Our churches

Our freedom

The hearts of our kids

Our marriages

 

We are losing some of these battles pretty soundly right now. Have you read the news lately?

But we know that we win the war. That is worth repeating: We are going to win this war between good and evil.

We can’t lose sight of this. No, God does not promise us that our kids will be saved or that our spouse will stick around. He doesn’t promise that our churches will preach sound doctrine or that our country will return to its Christian roots. But what we do know– without a shadow of a doubt– is that God will reign victorious in the end. Every knee will bow to the King and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Isaiah 45:23; Philippians 2:10-11).

When we consider this very important truth, we naturally come to the conclusion that the only thing that really matters is whether or not those around us are going to confess Jesus Christ as Lord before it’s too late.

So often, we worry so much about the outward stuff that indicates serious problems– the bad grades, the drug and alcohol abuse, the debt and materialism, the false doctrines, the laws, the liberalism. And we try to fix things. We try to fix our kids and spouses. We try to fix our churches and our government.

But is anything truly fixed without a changed heart? A child can change behavior without ever changing his heart. A government can make laws that are more compatible with our beliefs, but will that really solve our country’s problem?

I don’t think so. Because the reason we are having such deep, heart-breaking issues– both in our families and beyond– is that people believe in a lie. They have chosen to reject the Word of God and they believe the lies of the world. They believe these lies of the devil–

–That their purpose and fulfillment is what matters (which leads to self-centered, self-absorbed individuals only out for themselves)

–That their kids’ happiness reigns supreme (which leads to spoiled brats who think the world revolves around them and want the world but are not willing to work for it)

–They believe unity is more important than biblical integrity and that loves trumps holiness (which leads to a shallow, fake religion pretending to be Christianity)

–They believe that the Bible is just partly true. That it has errors. They believe that God just got the ball rolling and then put the creation of the world into the hands of some kind of evolutionary process (placing doubt on The Bible removes the foundation for true Christianity)

–They believe that you get to heaven for doing good things. That they simply need the good to outweigh the bad (this is a insidious and very old lie — that your righteous works will win your salvation)

–They believe that God would never want them to be unhappy (this leads our faith to become me-centered rather than centered on the almighty God of the universe)

–They believe that man is basically good and that sins are simply diseases and disorders (the sinfulness of man is a key component of true Christianity and cannot be overlooked without forfeiting biblical salvation completely)

–They believe that their happiness will be found here on this earth (but Jesus said “blessed are you when you are persecuted, for your reward will be in heaven”. See Matthew 5:11-12)

 

I challenge you to talk to someone that calls him or herself a “Christian” but doesn’t live like it. Somewhere in their thinking is a lie (or two or three) that they are believing.

It is impossible to fight the battle for someone’s soul if they are believing lies. We have to start at the beginning. And that beginning is the Word of God. For that is where we find the truth. This means that we need to know it and study it and understand it ourselves.

And so while we wait for The Win, let’s fight the battle for the truth–God’s Truth. Let’s fight for the hearts of our kids, for our marriages and families. Let’s fight for it in our churches and in our country. Do it sweetly and kindly and gently. But let’s never, ever forget that we are in a war.

And never forget– we win!

 

It’s About Love

Modesty

I had an interesting conversation with my kids the other day.

“Your shirt’s a little low there, Mom,” said a daughter.

I self-consciously pulled it up and mumbled, “I know. This stupid shirt…”

Upon which my son said, “no worries, Mom, no one is looking at you, anyway.”

Uhhh, thanks.

But, hey, while it was a little hard on my ego, I also realized that it’s mostly true.

So why should I worry about modesty as an older woman?

Perhaps we should first answer the question of why all women–whether young or old–should worry about modesty at all?

I think there is a really good reason that God tells us to be modest (I Timothy 2:9). Let’s look at why that might be–

When most men get a glimpse of a breast or see thighs and bottom barely covered or covered by skin-tight pants, they are sexually aroused. This is how God created them.

I don’t know why He created them like this. I just know that He did.

Not only is this the way they were created, but then we read in Matthew 5:27-29 that to lust sexually is counted the same as committing adultery. We also know from the context of the passage that both of these things are considered serious sins. So this natural tendency that men have is something they must fight every day.

And over the past 50 years or so, this battle in their minds has become almost minute-by-minute combat which they can’t escape, often even in our churches!

We also know that God tells us in His Word that we are to love others (Matthew 22:39). If I would ask you what loving someone looks like, you would probably mention doing something special for them or being nice to them. And this is a part of love, for sure. But let’s leave the status quo definition of love behind for a moment.

Couldn’t we women also show love by keeping ourselves properly covered? Dressing modestly is truly an act of genuine love, encouragement, and protection for all men who see us, especially for our Christian brothers in the Lord.

For some reason I have not quite ever been able to understand, we Christian women have just seemed to completely forgotten that God calls us to modesty and that He does so for a reason– to protect us and to protect the hearts and minds of the men around us.

Our love for God and our obedience to His Word should be an even more important reason for us to obey Him in this area. And here is what I have found out– what we wear is just the first step in demonstrating modesty. The true heart of modesty is humility and grace. Think of it like this– when we dress immodestly we draw attention to ourselves. When we dress (and act) modestly, we are much more likely to draw people’s eyes towards Jesus instead of distracting them with our outward appearance.

Perhaps it is not you who dresses immodestly but you have allowed your daughter to dress in such a way. I never ceased to be amazed at what Christian parents allow their daughters to wear. Parents who I know genuinely love the Lord and have a wonderful testimony otherwise.

Inevitably, when you have this modesty question, some woman will loftily announce that she can’t be held responsible for a man’s mind and where it goes.

Yes, that is true. He has a responsibility to turn his eyes away. But how loving and kind it is to dress in such a way that men do not have to do that when they look at us!

So back to the original question– what if no one is looking at me, anyway? What does it really matter if my shirt is too low or my skirt too short?

This is a pretty relevant question, because as women head into mid-life, they sometimes grow a little panicky in all the life changes. And in a reaction to that panic can sometimes dress in ways that are slightly more immodest or not age appropriate. And, honestly, I can understand why. This time of a life is a really strange place to land as a woman, and everything feels topsy-turvy. But we still need to dress modestly.

Let’s go to Titus 2:3-5 to find out why–

the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.

It would seem pretty clear from these verses that we have an obligation to dress modestly for the sake of the younger women around us. We need to be the example they are to follow. That is our responsibility as we grow older. We never get to stop caring. We always need to be intentional about what we wear.

Now, I admit dressing modestly can be extremely difficult for all of us women–whatever our age–for a number of reasons–

1) We won’t fit in with those around us. A really good example of this is if you are a young woman on the beach. If you aren’t wearing a bikini, you almost stand out like a sore thumb. You don’t quite fit in with the crowd. Which is actually exactly what we are supposed to do — not look like the world– but it can be a bit uncomfortable and we have to be willing to part from the crowd. And that is never fun.

2) We can’t find modest clothes to buy. I have found this one to be especially challenging. It seems that fashion has dictated that cleavage is in and modesty is out. It is downright difficult to find a shirt that doesn’t slink its way down in the course of the day or give a full view if you bend over. And let’s be honest– most of us don’t want to live in polos or turtlenecks. But should we be sacrificing our modesty for that cute shirt? I am especially challenged as I write this, because I am ashamed to admit that I have made some exceptions for some “cute” shirts.

Is there ever a reason that we can in good conscience be immodest? Like is it okay on your wedding day? Or at a beach where no one knows you?

Answer this question: Are there men there?

If there are men there, then the answer is always no. There is, however, one glorious exception– we can be as immodest as we want with our own husbands! No modesty is necessary in the bedroom!

This has got to be one of the most confusing times there has ever been to live out our Christianity. We are told conflicting opinions about almost every topic. Modesty is no exception. But let’s stop listening to the placating excuses for why we can dress the way we want and let’s start turning our eyes to God’s Word, where we not only find the clear command that we need to be modest, but also find out why.

If you are in the habit of wearing low shirts, short skirts and shorts, tight yoga pants, or immodest swimwear, may I challenge you to do your own study of God’s Word in this area of modesty? Let’s stop following the crowd and drawing attention to ourselves and, instead, turn our focus towards pleasing God in this area of our lives.

 

Is There Such a Thing as an “Unbiased” Education?

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I don’t often delve into the world of education here at Growing 4 Life. We have lots of options these days and there are very strong feelings about this word among Christian parents. So much so, that I have seen Facebook debates over this and have heard comments that rank certain education choices as sinful.

Personally, I spent 12 years in the public education system. When my husband and I had our four children, we chose to home school them for 16 years and then chose Christian school when it was time for a change. I have never believed that education is a black and white issue. We Christians need to give each other freedom of choice in this area.

However, I think we do need to recognize something–

All education is biased by world view.

You see, we all have one. Aside from the Christian world view that recognizes that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God, the three general world views that most people hold to in one way or another are– 1) that there is some all-powerful being who would never send anyone to hell, 2) The human race is getting better and its eventual end will be that humans will become gods, or 3) that there is no God at all.

I was *reading the testimony of a young lady from the 1940s the other day. She gave this quote about morality–

“It’s not true that an atheist cannot have any morality; what he cannot have is rational morality. Unless we have a turn for philosophy, nine tenths of our moral code will be habit and sentiment, coaxed into us by Mamma, knocked into us by Papa. And ceasing to believe in God does not destroy a lifelong habit of telling the truth and holding the door politely for old ladies. My father persisted in justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence. He was used to them. It never occurred to him that, in the meaningless, purposeless universe of the atheist, moral ideas could only be something men put together for their own convenience, like the horse and buggy; something you could scrap as soon as an automobile morality came along. And he tried his level best to pass his virtues on to me. Atheist virtues, however, don’t keep very well.”

How profound is this? There is no reason for an atheist to have morals unless they are convenient. And, as such, they can change and move. Nothing is absolute.

(As an aside, I believe we are experiencing today the fruit of those parents who walked away from a belief in a God so many years ago. It took a little while and they couldn’t see the fruits of their decision at the time, but here we are.)

So if someone believes there are no absolutes, won’t this have to change how they teach our children anything? Doesn’t this make an “unbiased” education impossible?

The same would hold true for someone who is into the New Age. Their belief would be that they are becoming like God or that they are becoming a god. When they hold to this belief, then, they, too, get to choose their own morality–what is right and what is wrong.

So you may say, how in the world does that affect someone teaching my children?

I thought through this a bit in my own experience. I can think specifically of at least five teachers who influenced my public school classes with their personal philosophies–

1. A Spanish teacher who told us that all roads lead to God. We had quite a debate about that, he and I.

2. An English teacher that promoted homosexuality as normal and used the guise of philosophy to teach an anti-biblical message.

3. A Science teacher who taught there is no god but that man simply evolved.

4. A charismatic, likable Social Studies teacher who filled our heads with his own liberal agenda.

5. An English teacher who was clearly involved in some type of witchcraft.

This was my experience 30 years ago in the public education system. Do you honestly believe it has gotten any better since then?

But I am not writing this to encourage you to take your kids out of public school or to tell you that homeschooling is the only way. The reason I am writing is this–

No matter how you choose to educate your children, make sure you have the discussions that matter.

Your kids have questions. Lots of questions. And they are getting answered every day. They are getting answered by atheists and people sold out for false religions. They are finding their answers in school classes and on movie screens, on the sports fields and in the music they listen to.

If you don’t combat the wrong answers they are hearing with the truth of God’s Word, you will most likely lose your kids to the world. I have seen this happen over and over again.

No, we don’t always have the answers. And yes, sometimes it is really, really hard work. I have found that in many homes parents just pretend there aren’t any questions because that is simply easier. But just because we pretend this, doesn’t make it true. Think back to your own teen-aged years and remember.

A few years ago, Public Service announcements encouraged parents to talk about drugs with their children. “Just Say No” was a familiar slogan. And this is not a bad thing. But how do you talk about drugs if you don’t have the solid base of God’s Word as your standard for morality?

We need to first and foremost teach our kids that our standard for morality is God’s inerrant, unchanging, infallible Word or the world will teach them otherwise.

And so I would encourage you to consider these things when making your education choice–

1. Sports or other extra-curricular activities are not a good reason to use the public education system. These things are fleeting and fading, but the character that is being built during these crucial years is not.

2. Consider the personality of your child when making this decision. I can think of two of my children who would have been just fine in the public education system. They are full of conviction and talk about everything they are thinking with my husband and me. My other two would have struggled. They tend to be more quiet about personal feelings and to follow the crowd. We have talked about it and they recognize this, too.

3. Don’t think you can rest just because your child is in a Christian school or you are home-schooling.  Students cheat and lie here, too, and sometimes subtle, modern-day philosophies creep into these places, as well.

No matter what choice we make, we must be on our toes and be setting a good foundation on God’s Word at home. We have a duty to protect our children. Take it seriously, no matter which way you choose to educate your children. Sports and starring roles are fun and exciting, but integrity and godly character is far more important. And, while education is a good and useful thing, the value of teaching our children a godly world view based on God’s Word is inestimable. Let’s take our role as parents very seriously. Let’s focus on what’s eternal in a world that is focusing on what is fading.

The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

 

 *Quote taken from “These Found the Way”, edited by David Wesley Soper.

 

About Love

I Corinthians 1313

When I was a kid, life was a lot different. I can remember when Dad brought home our first microwave, our first VCR, and our first Video Game Console. I remember the Christmas as a young married woman when I received my first CD player. I was so excited! I didn’t know it at the time, but just like life had changed so drastically with the development of machines in the late 1800s, so would life change again in the late 1900s with the development of the computer.

One of those changes — a seemingly very minor one — is that instead of buying the whole album of our favorite artist to get the song we love, we can now just buy that one song. This option means we don’t have to buy the songs we don’t like. But I wonder if it doesn’t also mean that we miss a few we would really like?

Sometimes I think we approach love a little like that. We want to just experience the easy, good parts of love. Let me explain–

If we are a parent, the easy, fun parts are the hugs & kisses, the snuggling up at night and the “I love yous” and the proud moments when you get to say “I’m that kid’s parent!”

If we are a spouse, some of the good parts are when we are in complete harmony in purpose, holding hands and talking, looking across a room and knowing exactly what the other person is thinking.

If we are a son or a daughter, the good parts are the cool ways your parents take care of you even as an adult, or the friendship that has grown deeper with your older parents.

If we are a friend, the easy part is the connection we feel, the support we know we have, no matter what befalls us.

These are some of the best things about love. The joy that comes from interpersonal relationships.

But I wonder if, with the advent of all of this technology, we have become a little unrealistic in our expectations of love, thinking we can just pick the good times. Trying to hang on to “perfect”– just getting the pleasant experiences and bypassing the unpleasant ones.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that sometimes there are far more unpleasant ones than pleasant ones. We are all sinful human beings and life is hard–

As parents, we need to discipline and provide consequences for sinful behavior. We need to have hard conversations. We need to endure a few “I hate you!”s and quite a few seemingly hopeless moments that just aren’t any fun at all and certainly not easy. But that is love.

As spouses, we don’t always jive, we disagree, and we have periods of crazy, busy times where we hardly see each other. We argue, we fight, we lay in bed not talking. But this is just the hard part of love.

As adult children, we see our parents growing weaker, they need us to do things for them that they used to be able to do for themselves, we take them to dr appts, or do their finances, or change their diaper. But we remember how hard it must have been to raise us, and we do it because we genuinely love them with all our heart.

As friends, we disagree– sometimes on major things, our kids may fight or not get along, or we may move far away from each other, but if true love abounds, the friendship remains, because that is what true love does.

I just wonder if we have become so used to pulling only the good things and avoiding the bad things, that we have not experienced love in its fullest, most satisfying way. For when we walk away (physically or emotionally) from a tough situation, we are in essence saying that we don’t want the hard stuff.

Now, please don’t take this to the extreme. There are a few very legitimate reasons to walk away from certain relationships, at least for a time. But this is not the norm. Most relationships are broken because they just weren’t easy or fun anymore.

Many of those who walk away go on to start a new relationship that sours faster than the first one.

But true love accepts the bad stuff along with the good stuff. Rejection isn’t even an option. Divorce or abandonment aren’t even a passing thought in our brain. True love means commitment and work but, oh, the rewards are tremendous.

I have no idea if you are struggling in a relationship today. Many of us are. Don’t give in to the thoughts that tell you to quit and move on. Keep loving. Keep doing what’s right. Do what you can do and then pray. Hard. We can’t change the other person, but we can surely do all that we possibly can to salvage the troubling relationships in our lives.

 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:13)

 

A Call to Prayer for Our Men

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{my apologies that my subscribers are receiving this post twice. I actually had to restore my site and re-post this.}

My daughter and I met some friends for lunch on Friday. The hour and a half drive there took us through a section of road that has adult stores dotting the roadside for several miles. Usually these stores have cars in front of them that are very obviously parked so that no one can see their license plates. A sure sign of embarrassment and shame.

As we drove back home on Friday, I happened to see a man get out of his work truck in front of one of these stores. He went around the side of his truck to fix or rearrange something. I stared at him as we went by. I wanted to see just what kind of men frequent such places.

And guess what? He looked like an ordinary guy that we’d hire to fix our car or stand and talk to at a sports game. He certainly didn’t look like an evil monster.

Now, truthfully, I didn’t expect him to look like a monster. So what’s my point? I believe that we women have done a great disservice to our men if we are not praying for their sexual purity.

It makes us so uncomfortable to even talk about this. Even now, some of you will be appalled that I would be writing about such a thing. But, honestly– unless you are living in blind ignorance–you must realize that pornography has become a problem of epidemic proportions in the American family. Even in Christian families. So many face the consequences of this deadly, secret sin in one way or another.

I’m not going to speak to the men since I obviously can’t understand how that temptation works for them. However, I am going to challenge the women reading this– wives, mothers, aunts, grandmothers– to pray for the men in their lives regarding sexual purity. Pray for your husbands, sons, nephews, grandsons. Ask the Lord to protect them from this particular temptation.

We can’t just turn our heads and pretend this problem doesn’t exist. Because that doesn’t keep it from existing.

Will you join me in praying for the sexual purity of our husbands and sons? Our nephews and grandsons? Our brothers and brothers-in-law? And even our pastors and spiritual leaders? God will use our prayers to help them to resist the temptation of this secret sin that destroys so many marriages and families. We must never underestimate the power of prayer!

Obviously, this is not my typical kind of post. But when I saw that normal-looking man walk into that store, my heart broke for him and his family because I know that they have a serious problem that will only grow worse unless he seeks help. And it reminded me to pray hard for the men in my life in this particular area. I thought I would share this with you, in case you, too, would like to ask God to strengthen and protect the men in your life.

 

Helping your kids through a tough time

depressedkid

How well I remember that moment. I was peaking around the door to check on my oldest daughter. She was only two or three and was in Sunday School for the first time. As I watched, I saw a couple of little girls treat her unkindly. I saw the hurt look on her face and I felt like someone had stabbed me in the heart.

That was the moment I realized that it hurts far worse to watch my kids experience hurt than for me to experience it personally.

Watching all that was going on from that door was rather torturous. But I knew to step in and try to fix the situation would only make it worse. And so I stood helplessly by, trying to comfort myself with the thought that I went through the same kind of snubs and survived.

Little did I know at that time just how often my kids would experience pain and hurt throughout their lives– no matter how much their father and I tried to protect them. Since that time I’ve grown older and, hopefully, wiser. And I’ve learned that there are some things we can do help our kids as they travel through those painful times.

But before we can help them, we need to understand a few things ourselves. First, we need to understand that we can’t– nor should– fix every little problem that comes up in our kids’ lives. As my oldest was going through terrible times with some friends in middle school it was all I could do to not to get involved, but, thankfully, I chose to heed my mother’s advice: do not get involved. I am so glad that I did now, although at that time it felt like I must do something.

I think we also need to understand that shielding our kids from hurt is actually hurting them in the long run. Let’s say that we were actually able to keep them from experiencing pain and hurt for the first eighteen years–can you imagine what would happen when they left our shelter and struck out on their own? What a cold and harsh introduction to a cold and harsh world. And not only that, but in our attempts to protect and shelter our kids from pain, they start believing that they are the center of the world. They become self-centered and self-absorbed and eventually end up hurting themselves (and us) in the long run.

And so we cannot think it is our duty to shield our kids from pain. It isn’t.

But just because we can’t keep them from feeling hurt, doesn’t mean we can’t help. There are some things we can do to help our kids–

1. Remind your child that they are not alone. Let them know that you love them unconditionally and keep them secure in that love. No matter what’s going on — whether bad grades, a broken heart, or not making the team– be by their side and encourage them. But, just as importantly, remind them of God’s love. Remind them that they will never be alone if they turn to God in their trials.

2. Talk about the Sovereignty of God in their life. Sovereignty is a big word, but basically we need to discuss with our kids how nothing happens outside of God’s Will and how whatever it is they are facing is something God is using to turn their hearts toward Him or to grow them spiritually. Nothing happens without a reason. Encourage them to have a humble and teachable spirit as they face trials and troubles and then follow those words up by having a humble and teachable spirit yourself when you face your own personal trials.

3. Think outside the box. So often we tend to throw our hands up in the air and say, “Oh, well, we just need to walk through this” and we put our heads down and trudge on. But sometimes– not always, of course– we can think outside the box and come up with a solution. Or we come up with a way to creatively deal with a situation. Talking and discussing in this way will help them with problem-solving later on. We never want to teach them to just “accept their fate” without first exploring all of the options. We never want to encourage them to dwell in a place of self-pity. But it is very important that we never have these discussions without prayer. Be in prayer with them and for them. God has answered and provided in many seemingly impossible situations in our family’s life– building much faith in the process.

4. And, finally, always help them to keep a proper perspective. When one of my kids and I were discussing something difficult that they were going through recently, it was so helpful to remember that this particular trial really wasn’t that much of a trial, in light of what so many others go through. It really does help to remember that it could be so much worse. At the very least, gently and lovingly turn their thoughts to how much gratitude they should have simply because they have a warm home, food to eat, and someone who loves them to take care of them.

As you have these discussions with your kids, you will see them start handling their own trials in this way. But, of course, most of our discussions with our kids will be utterly useless if we don’t respond to our own trials well. How true the old saying is: Much more is caught than taught. And so we need to be ever mindful of responding and reacting to our own trials by applying these same four principles.

Our kids are going to experience pain. It is the very nature of life. Instead of jumping in to shield and protect them, let’s do all we can to prepare them for the future, so that they will be ready to go out into the world as capable and unselfish adults who want to live for God’s glory.

 

 

Eight Ways to Make This the Best Christmas Ever

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Thanksgiving is over. Guess what that means?

It means that Christmas season has officially begun for even the most reluctant merrymakers! Personally, I’ve been playing Christmas music for awhile now. I think it is terribly sad to relegate all that great music to four or five short weeks out of the whole year.

This year we only have four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get everything done that needs to be done. If you are like me, visions of Christmas cards and cookies and candy dance in your head. The tree is up but some decorations are still sitting in boxes waiting for their time to shine. A few gifts are already hidden and a Christmas list organizing all of the gifts you need to buy is partially put together. There may be school and church programs and office parties and family get-togethers. Amidst all of that activity is the normal stuff–basketball games, cleaning, laundry, paying bills. And it’s all squished into these four short weeks.

So how do we keep our sanity? And how do we build stronger relationships (instead of tear them down) in this stressful season? And how do we keep our eyes focused on the real meaning of Christmas? I have a few suggestions–

1. Look at your list and eliminate a few things, if necessary. This seems so simple but for some of us we feel terribly guilty for even contemplating it. I know that the first year I didn’t have a big Christmas cookie baking day, I was almost wracked with guilt. But I eventually realized that Christmas could be enjoyed whether I baked or not. I still bake a few of our very favorite kinds, but I spread it out a little and don’t relegate an entire day. I can see cookie-baking day being re-instated as my kids grow up and want to start new traditions. Which leads me to number two–

2. Be flexible. While it is quite special and beneficial to have some traditions, we can’t be too over the top on carrying out every last tradition that we become annoying and frustrating to be around during the holidays. Maybe we need to go to a different tree farm–or no tree farm at all. Maybe our family get-together can’t be on Christmas Eve anymore. Life keeps changing and that means our holiday seasons keep changing, too. We can’t get too wrapped up in traditions that we grow sulky and depressed when they discontinue or change. You may not find this particular suggestion quite as necessary until you have older kids.

3. Spend a few minutes enjoying the tree lights. I know this sounds simple. But, seriously, try it. Take the occasional evening — with your spouse or your kids or by yourself– turn all of the lights off and just spend a few minutes relaxing in the quietness of the twinkling lights. It’s a great place for conversation, contemplating, and praying. Make sure the TV is off.

4. Do something really nice for someone. This can be accomplished in a myriad of ways and many of us do this already, I know. But maybe this year we can step it up a bit. We can have the kids make cards for shut-ins or perhaps even visit someone from our church that is lonely. We can visit a local soup kitchen or mission and help however we can. We can come up with really fun and creative random acts of kindness. The key here is to focus on others. It is not about stuffing money into the salvation army box or writing a check to a needy family– these are great things, don’t get me wrong– but this is about giving some of our precious time to someone else who can really use it. It’s about getting out of our little, comfortable worlds and stretching ourselves. If you do this, I can promise that you will not be sorry.

5. Develop a tradition or two just for your family. I am sure many of you already have these in place. But if you are looking for ideas, here are a few– have a gingerbread house building night (we buy kits cheap after the holidays), read an Advent story each night in December (check here for one of our favorites!), have a camp-out by the Christmas tree, bake together, have an ornament-making day, watch a classic Christmas movie (most Hallmark movies do not count here– I am thinking It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, The House Without a Christmas Tree–if you haven’t seen these you are really missing out!). The key to family traditions is that you don’t feel the need to do all of these, but you develop a few that are fun for your whole family.

6. Don’t stop your normal habits of quiet time, exercise, and eating right. Oh, this one is so key. We are not our best selves when we aren’t walking with the Lord. If we aren’t in His Word we aren’t being convicted and challenged to keep growing. When we aren’t eating right and exercising, we do not feel well and don’t have as much energy. But the catch-22 to is that it is just so hard to fit these things in during this busy season. And so we may need to change things up a bit– maybe we need to pray before we get out of bed in the morning or can only get in a few verses instead of a whole passage during this time. Perhaps we can only exercise three times a week or 20 minutes at a time. It’s still better than nothing. And we need to give ourselves a little grace to enjoy some holiday fare without becoming holidays “pigs”. There is a happy medium. Sometimes it is hard to find it.

7. Keep the TV to a minimum and read some old-fashioned Christmas stories. TV can consume hours of our time very quickly if we are not careful. Hours much better spent doing some other things. This is always a challenge for me during this season because there are so many Christmas movies that I enjoy. But there are so many wonderful Christmas stories to read. Don’t miss them! Joe Wheeler’s Christmas in My Heart series  (I think he has like 17 books of compiled Christmas stories), The Bird’s Christmas Carol, Finding Noel, and The Unfinished Gift are just a few of my favorites. Truly, you will not be sorry to turn that box off and pick up one of these wonderful stories. The Bird’s Christmas Carol and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol our two of our favorite read-alouds from the past.

8. And, most importantly, let’s keep the focus on the true reason of Christmas. Let’s minimize the Santa movies–notice that I’m not saying don’t watch them, as that is something for each of us to determine on our own. But let’s keep the focus off of Santa and his magical, “god-like” qualities and keep the focus on what we are really celebrating if we are believers. Let’s read the account of His birth in the Gospels and spend some of our time around the tree discussing this with our family. Let’s talk about why He came and the wonder and amazement of it all. If we don’t talk about it, our kids will not know. They won’t understand the depth of love we have for Jesus Christ. Christmas is a great time to focus on the gospel. For it is at this time that we celebrate God’s great plan of salvation, which began in a stable in a small town in Bethlehem. O, how easy it is to lose focus if we aren’t careful. It is also a wonderful time to share our faith. People tend to be kinder and more open at this time of the year. Let’s not be so embarrassed and ashamed to talk about our Lord with others but instead be bold and courageous!
I hope that you find these tips encouraging and inspiring! I hope that it gets you thinking about how to have the best holiday season with your family. Do you have some other suggestions? I would love to hear your ideas, so be sure to comment below! Now let’s all go have a wonderful holiday season! Starting. Right. Now!

 

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The Right Glue

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Yesterday was a lazy day around here. No plans. Nothing that absolutely had to be done. I love days like that. Around 3pm, my youngest daughter decided she was going to build a gingerbread house. We talked a bit about it and the decision was made that if she would wait a few hours, all of us (at least all of us who were around that night) would build one with her later on that evening. We hadn’t had an annual gingerbread-house making day for a few years and it seemed like it would be a fun activity for a winter evening.

We have this habit of buying gingerbread-house kits after the season is over for almost nothing and then stocking them up for the next year.  Of course, if you go a couple of years without an annual gingerbread-house making day, we are left with with a problem–the supplies get very old. This leads to some pretty serious consequences. As you will see.

Later on that evening, we all sat down at the table to get started. As I gently pulled my pre-made pieces from the box, I was disappointed to see that one of my gables has broken and the other one was in pieces. It was pretty clear that one end of my house would have a nice, large air vent.

As we started pulling out the packets of pre-made icing, we were quickly disappointed. Some were as hard as a rock, others were stiff and hard to work with. We put the stiff ones in warm water with high hopes. As we continued some of us had better luck than others with our creations. Personally I found the whole thing very frustrating. The stiff, uncooperative icing was making it so much work to add candy to the house that photo 1revit wasn’t even all that fun. And, so, when the roof slid off just as I had finished decorating it, I decided to just go play with my new “grand-puppy.” She was getting into a little trouble, anyway, and needed someone to watch her.

I played with her for a few minutes and then wandered back to my house to try one more time. I was less than enthusiastic this time around, but seeing the rest of my family persevering at their houses made me feel a little guilty (except for my son-in-law who had gladly taken up puppy duty and was feeling about the same as me about decorating these houses!)

photo 2I tried to put the roof back on and let it rest for a moment. I then carefully put a little frosting on a piece of candy cane and stuck it to the side of the house. The candy cane fell off. I tried again and this time the whole house fell completely apart! As it lay there in pieces, I decided that now was a great time to quit and left the table.

Quitting was an option with a gingerbread house. Who really cares, anyway? But quitting is not an option with our own homes. And sometimes we do feel like quitting, don’t we?

In my gingerbread house, the glue that held my house together was of very inferior quality. And so I was running into some pretty serious problems.

The same can be said of our own lives and homes. The glue with which we hold our lives together has to be the right stuff.

If we build our homes with unbiblical presuppositions and expectations, we will start to see certain areas crumble. If we use the glue of guilt, pride, or unrelenting stubbornness, our house will become weak. If we allow worldly attitudes and philosophies to give us the recipe for our glue, our homes will most likely fall apart. It will, at best, be a thrown-together shack with the potential to fall in on itself at any moment.

The glue to keeping our homes together is clear in scripture. It consists of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The glue that works has a good portion of humility (Colossians 3:2) and biblical love (I Corinthians 13). I use the adjective “biblical” because the world’s definition of love is very different than God’s.

The other day I was feeling really frustrated about something that wasn’t getting done around the house. I told my husband my frustration and let’s just say that my words were not filled with kindness and humility. A few minutes later, I sat down to read my daily portion of God’s Word. In my read-through of the Bible that day, I “just happened” to be in I Corinthians 13. I was quite aware of the irony of it all. When my husband came back in the house a few minutes later, I humbly apologized.

You see, God uses His Word to act as a mirror for us. It clearly shows us our weaknesses. But it doesn’t end there. It also gives instruction and help. We aren’t stuck in the mire of our pride and anger. We can get beyond our penchant for bad language or sulkiness. We can change. Our marriages can change. Our families can change.

There is a lot of hopelessness that abounds today, with little talk of victory in Christ. But what kind of God do we serve, anyway? If He can part the seas, can’t He work in our own hearts? If He can create the world, can’t He fix a marriage? Yes, we will always fight sin. Yes, we will always be tempted. But if we start using the right kind of glue, by the help of the Holy Spirit, things can get so much better.

Life is just tough, isn’t it? Relationships are sticky, tenuous things. So many families are dysfunctional and so broken. And we retreat into our shells and build walls. But perhaps it is time to start digging into God’s Word for some answers.

If you are ready to begin to discover God’s Word for yourself, I invite you to join me in the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge coming up in 2015. You can click here for more information. But you don’t have to join me to get into the Word. Just do it. Just go get started. If you are humble and ready to obey, you will find it life-changing.

 

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A Different World

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When I was a child, I can remember my grandmother’s reaction to the TV shows that my grandfather used to watch. She would say with gusto (and in good, old Pennsylvania Dutch fashion), “Such dumb stuff!”

I used to giggle as I watched my grandparents. My grandma would fuss and my grandpa would fuss right back and keep watching anyway.

Interestingly enough, the shows she was upset about then seem utterly mild and innocuous now.

Isn’t it so fascinating how we so easily slide down the moral slope? The things we allow in our homes now make the shows of the 70s look almost moral (even though so many of them weren’t) because we have become so hardened to what is right and wrong. We have become so inoculated to the evil in this culture.

And, honestly, the TV is probably one of the main reasons. When we allow ourselves to watch a show filled with the things that God hates, they become normalized.

I remember a young man arrogantly telling my daughter that she cannot possibly understand the real world, if she doesn’t watch popular shows and movies. After all, they are just showing the real world.

Aaahh. How I beg to differ.

First, you can know the real world quite well by just living in it. You don’t need a screen to tell you about it.

And, second, tv and movies do not generally show the real world anyway. They show an unrealistic world full of violence at will, sex anytime you want it, normalized gay lifestyles, and scoffing of Christians.

Oh, wait.

That is real.

What TV and movies started showing us in the 80s and 90s has become reality. Do you think that is an accident?

What tends to not be real on most of the stuff coming out of Hollywood is the serious lack of consequences of sin. They are almost always missing. There are no damaged emotions, jail time, or insurance claims. There are no consequences to drug use, selfishness, or shooting someone because they were in your way. But this is not the real world.

So let’s take it back to us. I have a question for you– Are you more or less likely to watch the same shows as you did five years ago? 10 years ago? 20 years ago?

I mentioned this in a post a few years ago. You can find it here. If we are growing as a Christian, then our spirits should be more offended as we watch things that are displeasing to our Savior as time goes on, not less.

It reminds me of the time we had on a movie in our home that had been very popular in the 80s. We tend to think that if it is old, it is okay. We found out as we watched that movie that this is not the case. A few minutes into it, we were so inundated by bad language and an overabundance of taking our dear Lord’s name in vain, that my husband turned it off. Why hadn’t we remembered that when we watched it the first time? Or the second time?

I can answer that.

It’s because as we have grown closer to the Lord, He is filling us with hatred for the things He hates and love for the things He loves. And, oh, the blessing that comes from that! You may think we are missing out on all the fun, but, honestly, we don’t miss it because our definition of fun has changed.

If you just don’t care or believe that God doesn’t care about your entertainment choices then I challenge you to get in the Word, find out who God is, commit to obey Him and then watch Him change you from the inside out. Watch your love for filthy entertainment grow to an occasional lapse in judgment. It’s an amazing thing. Hebrews 4:12 is TRUE!

If you have no desire to be changed or think you are going to miss out on too much fun and refuse to even think about this, then you’d better do some soul-searching.

There is no denying that we are in a different world now than we were even ten years ago. Right and wrong has become relative and fuzzy. Anything goes. There is no respite from the evil and sinful things that come into our homes via a screen unless we turn off the TV.

So I challenge you to turn it off. Or at the very least, pay more attention to what you and your family are watching. Don’t cave to the god of this age. Don’t let him steal your children. Stand for the truth. And, in so doing, be a wonderfully, shining light to the lost around you!

 

iOS Frustrations

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Well, the iPhone saga continues on at this house. If you recall, it was only about a month ago that I had shattered my iPhone and blogged about the lessons I learned from that experience (you can find that post here). When I wrote that, my phone had not been fixed. I’d like to take just a moment to tell you the rest of that story, so you can fully appreciate the rest of this post.

After trying to replace the broken screen, I finally just decided to call the insurance I apparently had on the phone (but do not remember signing up for). When I called, the kind lady assured me that she would be able to help me and went on to explain that since they were no longer making the iPhone 5, I would be sent a 5s. A day later, my phone showed up. I moved the Sim card, restored my latest backup, and was up and running in literally no time at all. It was so easy.

Fast forward a few weeks, when my husband dropped his phone. But instead of the screen shattering, something happened with his sound. He could no longer hear any calls through his ear piece and had to take all his calls via the speaker phone. Once again, I was on the phone with the insurance company.

But this time it would not be so easy.

When I called, I was informed by the not-so-nice lady who seemed to have no idea what she was doing that I would need to fax an affidavit and proof of my I.D. to them before they could process this claim. They could not approve the claim before I did this. When I asked for her supervisor and explained that I had just made a claim on another phone without doing this, she told me this was standard and there were no exceptions. Hmmm. Okay. Slightly annoyed, I did as I was told. When the approval finally came through it was for an iPhone 5. No problem there. I found it curious, given what the agent had told me the month before, but not a problem.

A couple of days later, the phone arrived. When I went to get started exchanging the phones last night, the tiny screen of the new iPhone informed me that no backups could be restored until the operating system was updated. Upon investigating further, I realized that the phone they had sent me only had iOS 6. At that point, I knew we were not looking at some easy fix. This was going to take some time. I was starting to feel some pressure. It was already pretty late at night and Eric could not be without a phone the next day. Ok, he could but it would be extremely inconvenient. I found myself wondering why mine was the easy and upgraded one. He needs his phone so much more than I need mine. Anyway.

I updated the iOS as requested only to find out that now it couldn’t restore the backup because the new phone was now iOS 8 and his backup was in iOS 7. So. Much. Frustration. So now I had to update his iPhone. If you have an iPhone, you are aware that these updates take some time. We were now at around 11:15. I left his to update and went to bed. This morning at 6:15, it looked like it had not updated overnight. And the panic hit once again. Thankfully, it had updated (must have just been a glitch on the screen). To update the new phone, I had had to set it up as a new phone. And so now I had to go back and erase and reset the new phone so I could restore the backup.

I was finally able to get the new phone in Eric’s hands at about 7:30.

What a process. All because I did not start with the right iOS system.

What I am going to say now most people do not want to hear but the bottom line is this: If we start with right operating system, life is generally simpler. 

And, in life, the right operating system is found in the Bible. If we follow the standards set up for us there, we have a better life. I have even seen non-Christians live by the standards set up there and have a really good life because they are living a good, moral life by staying faithful to their spouse, being honest, loving their children and teaching them to obey and respect authority, being a good steward of their resources, and being a good worker. These things alone will keep us from experiencing an awful lot of consequences.

But when we start with the wrong operating system (known by the name ME), we run in to some serious problems. When we are dominated by our own selfish desires, pride, and lusts, we will probably not have such an easy life but instead will be forced to deal with some costly consequences.

Sure, there are exceptions to this. Sometimes bad things do happen to good people. But we have to stop pretending that we can–

–Eat all we want and not get fat.

–Let our kids disobey and be disrespectful and yet believe they will somehow follow the Lord when they get older.

–Be selfish and unloving and still have a good marriage.

–Buy what we want and not go into debt.

Life has consequences. And much of the heartache in this world is due to this rule of reaping what you sow (Galatians 6:7). The really sad thing is that most times we are not the only ones who reap what we sow. The tragedies dealt by bad decisions are visited upon our children, our spouses, and our parents. Our choices can ruin lives.

My phone was so easy because I had started with the correct iOS. On the other hand, Eric’s phone was difficult and so frustrating because it did not have the correct iOS.

Let me encourage you to start with the right operating system today. This doesn’t mean we will live perfect lives (which you will understand immediately if you know me at all!), but it does mean that we will make a very purposeful decision to stop being guided by our own desires and wants and, instead, turn to God’s Word for directions on how to live. You will not only be pleasing Him by this choice, but avoid a lot of unnecessary heartache and sadness in your life.

 

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