Self-Obsession

self-obsession

Sometimes I am still so amazed with how obsessed I am with myself. Seriously. How can this be? I think I have grown in this area of loving God more than loving myself and then I am criticized or minimized and I am back to realizing just how much I love me.

In the past few weeks, two specific things happened. In one instance, a ministry I have given my heart and soul to was completely–and quite unintentionally–minimized. In another, a project I was working on was criticized behind my back and that criticism found its way to my ears. In both instances, my first thought was: Why do I even bother? 

I have found in my life that these two things– criticizing or minimizing –are the two surest ways to knock the wind out of my sails. I get hurt, I get angry, I get frustrated.

But why? Why do these things bother me so much?

As I thought about this a lot over the past few days, I realize that it is because I love myself more than I love God. I get more angry and offended if someone hurts me than I do if they commit an offense against God.

I am quite ashamed to admit this, but it is just the truth.

When I can find my way back to biblical sanity–a place that is easier to find when I am walking with the Lord–I recognize that I can learn from comments that criticize or minimize–but only if I am willing to look at them honestly and humbly. When I can look at them honestly, there is potential to learn from them. When I am humble and stop thinking so highly of myself, the temptation to walk away from a fruitful ministry because of a comment seems silly.

And so my job is to examine whether or not the comment has truth or not and then to make changes if it does and to forgive and ignore if it doesn’t. That’s it. That’s what I am supposed to do.

I have to be honest with you– I did not want to share this today. It feels far too personal. But I believe that God wanted me to share this. So much so that I had nothing else to write today. Nothing. I was a complete blank– except for this.

And I recognize that self-love is a grave temptation for all of us. When we think we have it conquered, it rears its ugly head and reminds us that we certainly do not. It keeps us depending on and trusting in our heavenly Father for grace and strength. It reminds us why we so desperately need a Savior.

I also believe this dynamic–this self-obsession–is what keeps the body of the church from being unified on many occasions. It is what causes grudges to be held, forgiveness to be withheld, and ministries to fail. It is what causes rifts in families and great divides in churches.

All because of our great idol: self. 

And so God has continued to humble me. And while I don’t enjoy it, I am thankful for it. It is always good to be reminded that I am just a pinpoint–less than a pinpoint– on the timeline of life. God can accomplish His plan and His purposes without me–and without you, too. We are here to glorify Him and to make Him known, but He doesn’t need us. However, we do need Him. I think sometimes we get that a little mixed up and view ourselves as more important than we are.

Life is challenging. All of us face criticism or being minimized at one time or another. We face hurtful remarks and slander and gossip that swirls around about us. How we handle it is crucial and very telling of how much we worship self.

The next time this happens to me, I hope my journey to humility and honesty is just a little shorter. I hope that I will be less in love with myself and more in love with God. But I also recognize that this love of self is all-pervasive and ready to rear its ugly head at all times. We have to fight this sin very intentionally. And we can never rest because the path of self-obsession leads to a very dark and lonely place.

 

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31


 

One Thing We All Know For Sure

hourglass

A 48 year old man is on his way to a job when suddenly, with no warning at all, a car, driven by a teen-aged girl, crosses over into his lane. They are both killed.

A curious young boy steps too close to rushing flood waters and is swept away. He is one of 24 who are killed from flash floods in West Virginia.

A young family is playing on the lake beach of a famous resort. Suddenly, an alligator grabs their two year old and he is drowned.

The room is loud, the crowd is dancing and drinking, with no thoughts of eternity on their minds. Suddenly, shots fire. Over fifty are dead within minutes.

A man isn’t feeling well. He goes to the doctor and discovers that his body is riddled with cancer. Within months he is dead.

A 55 year old woman is on the beach on a windy day, celebrating her birthday with friends. Suddenly, a beach umbrella comes flying at her without warning, its point embedding itself in her heart. She is dead within minutes.

These are just six stories of death among the thousands that play themselves across the world every single day. Recent stories that you may have heard about. We don’t like to focus too much on death, but for just this one day, I want to talk about it.

There are a lot of opinions about a lot of things in this world. And with our new post-modern culture, we find that most people accept all opinions as true and valid. If you share anything about the Gospel with someone, you will most like hear something like this: well, that is true for you but it is not true for me. (As if 2+2 can equal 4 for me but equals 6 for them. The argument is so illogical I can’t stand it!)

But there is something we all can agree on–something that no one will argue over. There is one thing we all know for sure. And that is that we are all going to die. And, disconcertingly, few of us have absolutely any idea of when. This is not something we really want to think about, is it?

But perhaps we should think about it a little more often, because it would help us do a re-focus of a few things–

1. First and foremost, pondering death should make us think about our eternal destiny. Do I know where I am going to spend eternity? Am I confident in this? If you aren’t sure or are perhaps confused about the gospel, please read this post. If you think you are going to heaven because you said a prayer asking Jesus to come into your heart, then I would ask you: does your life give evidence of your belief? Do you read and study God’s Word? Would your family and friends testify to the working of God in your life? While it is true that we only need believe in order to be saved, it is also true that true belief yields a changed life. (Matthew 12:33; Matthew 25:41-46) Is your life a living testimony of the work of Christ? If not, then perhaps some soul-searching is in order.

2. If we are confident we are saved, then we also have some soul-searching to do. Death should push us to share the gospel. Many have never heard the Truth from God’s Word. Oh, they may have heard parts of it or they may have heard mangled, twisted bits and pieces taken out of context. But many people still think they are working their way to heaven. What are we going to do about it? Our days are limited and we have no guarantees. Has anyone heard the Gospel from us? Have we planted some seeds along the way? Could we plant more? These are the questions that arise when we think of death.

3. If I knew I was going to die in 5 years, what would I do differently? Would I be kinder? Would I work more? Or less? Would I really try to fix my anger issue? Or climb out of debt so my family isn’t stuck with a mess? Would I make sure my relationship with my kids, my spouse, my parents was healed? We humans like to operate on “someday” time. Someday I’ll talk to that person. Someday I’ll work on this or fix that. But, for most of us, someday never comes. We focus on the everyday cares of life and rarely give attention to changing and growing, choosing instead to live very comfortably at status quo.

4. Death is a great reminder of God’s Sovereignty. He holds our days in His hands. God has even numbered the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7). He knows everything–past, present, future. A day is as a thousand days to Him (2 Peter 3:8) God operates outside of time. We can rest securely in the care of our heavenly Father, knowing that we (and anyone we love) will not be removed from this earth before their time (which, by the way, is a concept that is SO much easier to write a sentence about than to actually live out).

5. Pondering death changes how we view our trials. We can become quickly overwhelmed with life and allow this to steal our joy, if we aren’t careful. Whether it be a houseful of children keeping us crazy busy or a bothersome physical trial, life can get us down. Whether it be a job that demands much from us or some relatives that suck the life out of us, life can move from joyful to draining in a short time. So much depends on our attitude. I feel a bit hypocritical even writing about this. I am very guilty of letting my circumstances control my mood. This is a constant struggle for me, but I am guessing that I am not totally alone in this (am I??). It is so easy to let external circumstances be the driving force of our lives. But we know that we should be controlled by the internal joy that we receive from the Lord and the peace that is available to us when we submit to His will. This is the secret to true and lasting contentment. Elisabeth Elliot put it this way: With acceptance comes peace. Somehow when we think of death it gives us a different perspective on the trials that are plaguing us, doesn’t it? It brings them into proper focus.

6. When we think on death, it reminds us of just how blessed our ordinary days are. We move from one day to the next and complain a little if nothing exciting is happening. And, yet, ordinary can be swept away in an instant. Let’s appreciate it now–before it’s too late. Life changes. Sometimes it is very gradual and sometimes it is in a moment. How important that we appreciate each day and each stage of life. My daughter actually just wrote post on this. Maybe you want to check it out.

As you go about this week, I hope that you will think a bit on this. Who are the lost that you rub shoulders with every day? Do you have a passion to share the Gospel with them? What needs changed in your life to make you look more like Christ? What work does the Lord have for you before you leave the earth? Do you spend a lot of time complaining? Is it time to start working on a heart of gratitude and a spirit of contentment?

Life is short. And none of us has any guarantees. The time to shine our light is now. The time to change is now.

Because only the Lord knows what tomorrow holds.

James 4:14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

 

The Education Dilemma

Education Dilemma

Mandates regarding public education are coming from the federal level that cause any Christian parent –or any moral parent, for that matter– to shudder. Should Christians remove their children from the public schools? How does a family know when it is the right time to leave (or not leave) the public school system? And what is the best choice for education if the choice is made to leave the government-run schools?

Education has been a source of disagreement and contention among Christians for a long time now. Homeschooling, Christian Schools, and Public Schools all have their passionate supporters. But sometimes that passion turns into hurtful, arrogant remarks that cause dissension and strife. There is a lot of emotion and strong feeling around this very personal decision and many walls have been built between relationships because of it.

I have purposefully not written very often about education on this blog. I have my opinions, but, alas, I cannot find a specific command about this subject of educating our children anywhere in the Bible. And, so, that means that each Christian family is called to make a wise, thoughtful, and very personal choice about how their children are going to be educated. Thankfully, we still have that choice–at least for now.

But whatever we decide is extremely important. Adolf Hitler put it this way “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” I am not a big fan of Hitler, but he does have that right. And, so, it is crucial that we keep the hearts of our children, no matter which choice we make.

Any education we choose for our child will have its advantages and disadvantages and many different things will weigh into our decision. A few public schools still have quite a bit of Christian influence, while a good many are a lost cause. Some families have a decent, affordable Christian school nearby and some do not. Some mothers love the challenge of homeschooling and others do not feel gifted in this area. These are all things that will affect our decision about education.

It would seem to me that the bathroom mandate from President Obama probably has many Christians thinking just a little harder about how they are going to make sure their kids get a good education without being destroyed morally and spiritually in the process.

Making a change, however, can prove to be very confusing and challenging. Friends and family will list the pros and cons of their education system of choice. Very strong and loud opinions are spouted by our friends and acquaintances as to what they think we should do. But the decision does not need to be made by our parents, sibling, or friends. It is a decision that has to be made by each individual family. So how do we decide as a family what is the best choice for the education of our children? This very question came up in our Sunday School class last week and I have been thinking about it ever since. I thought of five factors we should all probably consider when making such an important choice–

1. What is the best choice for my child? If we aren’t careful, the choice we make will be based on a mother’s desire to work outside the home. Notice I used the word “desire”. While there are certainly some moms that are forced to work due to a variety of reasons and there are also some who work so that they can afford to send their children to Christian School, there are also so many others who work simply because they long for the satisfaction and fulfillment of a career outside of home life. One of the hardest things to do as a mother is to put the needs and interests of our children before our own. Our natural selfishness can cause our own personal purpose and fulfillment to trump what we know in our hearts is best for our children. This is promoted and bolstered by a world that sees “self-fulfillment” as the ultimate goal.  In order to make a wise decision about education, we moms have to cast aside our own desires and dreams and answer this question: What is best for my child?

2. Remember that soldiers are thoroughly prepared before engaging in combat. I so often hear the argument that we need Christians kids to be salt and light in the dark world of the public school system. While I believe there may be a few, valid reasons to choose to use the public school system, I do not believe this should ever be one of them. Just as a young recruit would never be thrown into the battlefield without intense training, so, too, should we never throw our children onto the battlefield of the world’s stage without first training them in the things of God. Our children are like sponges, soaking up everything they hear. While you may be telling them that the world was created by God, the government school system will be telling them otherwise. And while you will be telling them that there is absolute truth and right and wrong, they will be hearing the complete opposite throughout all of their years in the system. This will be confusing to them. They are not yet prepared to handle such conflicting messages. While you can work through this at home, it will take great diligence and lots of work to undo the damage done during their school days, as any parent with a child in public school already recognizes.

3. Consider your child’s personality. Each child is so different and, while some are born leaders and will never sway from the convictions they have learned at home, others are easily swayed by even the lightest of peer pressure. What is your child like? If they are a follower, public school (and even Christian school) could potentially be a very dangerous place for them.

4. Consider your family’s and each individual child’s communication style. Does your family communicate effectively about the stuff of life that really matters? Are conversations about God and the Bible and godly, life choices a natural part of dinner conversations? Does your child participate in these conversations? Does your child ask big questions and tell you about his day when you tuck him into bed at night? Do you know if she is struggling internally with a problem or question? If the answer to these questions is yes, then this will give you a wonderful window into what’s going on in their soul and mind, making any education choice feel a little safer. If the answer to this question is no, then it is important to consider the ramifications of this in regards to education.

5. Whatever choice we make does not eliminate our need to educate our children spiritually. How many kids do you know that have been placed in Christian School because Mom and Dad thought it would fix them? What they don’t recognize is that what is happening to their child is not about external circumstances but about what is going on internally and spiritually. But figuring all that out can be hard, tedious work that is sometimes messy, awkward, and incredibly difficult. It is so much easier to place a child in Christian School and hope that the teachers there will fix a rebellious child. But there is not any education choice that we can make that will fix what is broken or turn our child into some spiritual giant. The main responsibility for this lies in the home. It is our responsibility, as parents, to see that our kids leave our homes with a deep love and respect for God and His Word. It is our job to teach them that they are ultimately accountable to God and that they are sinners but are so deeply loved by God that He made a way for them to be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus. It is our job to teach them that the Word of God is their authority and to obey and submit to it joyfully. It is our job to teach them that obedience and submission to the Word will yield a joyful, peaceful, and fulfilling–albeit not trial-free– life. It is our job to teach them that the world is a dangerous, evil place and we are safest and happiest if we avoid its pleasures, its entertainment, and its lusts. It is our job to teach them to trust in God’s Sovereignty during difficult times, to forgive others just as God has forgiven us, and to love and serve others. This is our job as parents and belongs to no one else–not the school, not the teachers, not the pastor, not the youth group.

 

I hope these five factors will help any of you who may be struggling with this decision. Personally, I have experience with all three kinds of education–I went to public school from kindergarten through high school, I homeschooled our children for 16 years, and then our younger three children attended Christian School for several years. It is hard to believe that our youngest will be a senior next year. As I look over the past and consider the choices we made regarding our children’s education, there is one thing that really stands out in my memory and that is that God always showed us which fork in the road to take when we would come to a crossroads. I can think of at least three specific times where we agonized over what to do regarding this subject and the wonderful way that God so faithfully answered our prayers, showing us His will in this area of our family’s life. God, in His ever faithful way, provided very clear answers to our prayers. If this is something you are struggling with, take it to the Lord in prayer. If you are praying with a heart to submit and obey Him–no matter what answer He gives (even if you don’t like it!)– then you can be sure that He will answer that prayer.

And, finally, let me conclude with this–

We need to offer much grace and kindness in this area of education. We need to allow our Christian friends and family to make their own choices, based on their own convictions and circumstances. If we feel strongly that someone we love is making a wrong choice, the best thing to do is to pray for them. Strongly stating our opinion only leads to broken and strained relationships.

As our family approaches our final year in answering this education question, I find myself filled with compassion for those of you with young kids. It is an evil, pagan world we live in and this is spilling out into all areas of life, including the government schools. It will, most likely, only continue to get worse. You will have big questions to face as you raise your precious little ones. Get on your knees and ask God to show you what to do. He is faithful!

Psalm 121 is a wonderful reminder of this–

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.

A Million Little Choices

baby-203048_1280

Each year on Mother’s Day, we have a Child Dedication Service at our church. This is very different than infant baptism, as it is not about the salvation of the child but, instead, to indicate the sober decision by the parents to raise this child up in a godly, Christian home. Yesterday, I had the great privilege of watching my daughter and son-in-law dedicate their son to the Lord, along with ten or so other families.

As I watched each family walk up, holding a precious baby in their arms or taking a small child by the hand, I thought back to the dedication services of our own children. We were in a smaller church at the time, so we would usually be doing the whole thing solo. In fact, my husband and I carefully picked an appropriate song for each child and even sang a duet together at each dedication (I am not really a gifted singer, so that will tell you a little something about how small the church was!)

But I realized something yesterday which I was rather oblivious to when we dedicated our own children–

Walking up to the front of the church and having the pastor pray over you and your child is the easy part. True dedication is made up of a million little choices.

Choices like–

Will I choose to scream over spilled milk or come along side and wipe up the milk and the tears lovingly?

Will I choose to hold my precious children and read Bible stories and other good books to them or will I set them in front of the TV after a long, hard day?

Will I choose to patiently work out the sibling quarrels or lay on the sofa yelling at the children?

Will I choose to learn and grow by reading and studying the Bible and other godly books or will I fill my free time with frivolous, temporal things?

Will I surrender my desire for perfection and choose to teach my children how to do chores around the home or will I just do it myself, because I can’t stand the way they do things?

Will I yield myself to the Lord and His will, or will I exhibit self-righteousness and discontentment and show my kids how not to walk with God?

Will I act differently at church than I do at home, or will my life be an example of holiness and godliness both at church and everywhere else?

Will I apologize when I’ve messed up, or will I arrogantly refuse to?

Will I spend time on my marriage and, by doing so, give the children the security of a strong and faithful home, or will I neglect it and keep them all wondering if there will be an eventual divorce?

Will I criticize and nitpick and punish in anger, or will I lovingly and gently discipline, correct, and guide?

Will I follow the world’s advice on child-rearing or will I follow God’s Word?

These, and many others, show our true heart in dedicating our children. Most of the church will never really know if this is the stuff that is happening at home. Most families show the best versions of their little group when they are at church. Only those we live with truly know the real us.

What would your kids say about you? Your spouse? Your grandkids?

Would words like godly, holy, kind, loving, supportive, and joyful be used? Or would words like angry, irritable, depressed, unhappy, selfish, and critical be used? How does your family view YOU?

It is a sobering question, is it not? And this question has everything to do with this business of dedicating our children to the Lord.

I can vividly remember an incident from when we were raising our first teenager. She wanted to do something that I didn’t want her to do. It was not a biblical issue and there was nothing wrong about what she was asking. I can remember my husband very patiently asking me “Why?”

Why didn’t I want her to do that?

And you know what? I didn’t have an answer! It was just my own selfish agenda, that’s what it was. It was one of those moments that hits you like a rock: I’d better give up my own selfish agenda or risk losing the heart of my child.

It was an easy decision and my daughter was able to do what she desired to do– which I can’t even remember what it was anymore (which goes to show you just how unimportant it really was). It was one of my million little choices. And I don’t regret one bit making the right one. I just wish I would have done that even more often.

We made so many mistakes, but, along the way, God kept teaching us both what it means to dedicate our children truly to the Lord. And we kept learning. In fact, in this new stage of parenting adults, we continue to keep learning. Life is one never-ending journey of learning. Just when you think you’ve nailed a stage down, you move on to the next one.

But, as we grow and change, may it be towards the Lord and may it be more like Jesus, so that God’s faithfulness spills over and down and through all the cracks of our weaknesses. May we never grow hard and calloused and bitter. And through a million little choices, may we show ourselves dedicated to not only raising godly children, but to being a godly example and a bright and shining light of hope in the dark world around us.

 

On Being a Mom to a Mom

Five Generations

Last weekend, our world changed forever. Our first grandchild came into the world and our lives will never be the same. Many people had told us just how wonderful this moment would be, but, just as becoming a parent truly defies description, so, too, does becoming a grandparent.

As I held this miniature human being in my arms, I couldn’t stop staring in absolute awe at the miracle of this new life (evolution is categorically impossible on just this one point alone). Staring at the tiny, perfect features of my first grandson, I felt blessed far more than I deserve.

When people would talk to us about becoming grandparents, most of the talk centered on the grandchildren (of course!) but one thing I didn’t really think about until this week is how this new life changes the relationship with my daughter.

We have been gently discovering this since her wedding a couple of years ago and have been learning to pass the baton on to the next generation. But with the birth of their child, it feels more official somehow. And I recognized that my husband and I are stepping off of center stage and are now moving into a support role.

It is a strange feeling and will take some adjusting for me and yet the time is so right. It is my turn to be for her what my mom has been (and continues to be) for me. She provided unwavering and consistent support as I took on one of the hardest jobs in existence: Motherhood. She provided godly counseling and sometimes just let me cry as she listened to my heartaches. And she rejoiced with me, almost as excited as we were when a baby started to walk or a child lost a first tooth. Oh, how I desire to do the same for my daughters and daughter-in-law as they take their turn at being a mother.

The picture above was taken over 70 years ago. The only person alive today is my aunt, who is the young girl in the photo. My grandmother is the beautiful lady standing on the left. At the time, she probably had two children. She went on to have two more, my mother being her fourth. When this photo was taken, she was experiencing the sleepless nights, the strong wills, the sibling rivalry, and the endless cleaning and cooking that comes with raising a family. It was her turn to face the challenges of motherhood. But time passed, the years went by, and it became my mom’s turn. And then it was my turn. And now, all these years later, it is my daughter’s turn.

As our roles are changing now, I have been giving a great deal of thought to how important it is for us grandmothers to find a balance between interfering bossiness and cold indifference. Somewhere between those two is the loving balance of being there when they need us and yet giving them lots of space to grow together as a family without our “two cents.”

I am starting to understand why some families have so much trouble. Some mothers are just not ready to step off of center stage and take their support role. This can cause a lot of stress in families where there is great effort in trying to keep “Mom happy.”

As I have been thinking on how to take on this new role, the little phrase I used to say to my kids comes to mind: Be a blessing, not a burden.

I want to not only love my grandchildren deeply and fully, but I want to do the same for my kids and their spouses. I desire to encourage with my words, rather than be the constant critic. I want to build up and offer support as they take on this new role of parenting, rather than fill them with self-doubt and frustration.

I recognize that our actions and reactions as grandparents can make all the difference in the world in our family dynamics. I want to make sure grudges and bitterness find no place in my heart. And that I love my in-laws with the same love with which I love my own kids, instead of making them feel like outsiders.

I won’t do any of this perfectly, of course. But this who I want to be. Who I want to become. 

And so time marches on and I am now in the grandmother’s spot in that photo above. I still have to shake my head a bit as I ponder it all. It feels just a bit surreal. But I am quite confident that I am going to like being the mom of a mom. Sure, it will take a little getting used to, but I am thrilled to watch my daughter and her husband with their little guy, knowing that he is in the hands of two people who love the Lord and love each other. I am deeply grateful in knowing that these new parents desire nothing more than that this child they have been entrusted with grows up to love and serve Jesus.

Really, how blessed can you get?

 

Socialism and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

chitty_film

It has come to my attention recently that there is a country that has been adopting socialism over the last number of years. At first, things looked brighter. But, eventually, in spite of the great promises this system makes to its people, it became very evident that this was not going to turn the country into utopia. In fact, the opposite is true. The people there are in dire straits. Socialism is tearing into shreds the quality of life the citizens of this country once knew. People die because they cannot get the medicine they need. People cannot meet their basic needs because the store shelves are empty. EMPTY. Even the food supply is scarce! Can you even imagine? I am not making this up. This is their reality.

And the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang just keeps coming to my mind. Have you ever seen it? When I was a young girl, this was my very favorite movie. I loved the crazy inventer, Caractacus Potts (played by Dick Van Dyke) and the Candy Factory owner’s daughter, Truly Scrumptious (played by Sally Ann Howes). I loved Grandpa and Jeremy and Jemima. I loved the car that could fly! And I loved the soundtrack and can still sing most of the songs by heart. And then there is the super scary part where the family lands in Vulgaria–where the Queen hates children and has locked every last one of them up in the castle dungeon.

Does anyone remember what happens next? I do recognize that I may be the only person on the planet who loves this movie! Anyway...

The “Childcatcher” comes looking for Jeremy and Jemima. He can smell them. He creeps around looking for the hidden children. But he doesn’t find them. So he tries a different tactic.

He decorates his jail wagon with brightly colored panels so that it looks like a candy store. He changes into a colorful outfit and walks around the village, shouting–

Gum Drops and Ice Cream! Lollipops! All Free Today!

Jeremy and Jemima hear him and come running. He promises them free candy if they come into his “store”. Smiling from ear to ear at the prospect of free candy they enter the wagon. In a wink, the door locks behind them, the sides fall away, and we see the children riding away clinging to the metal bars and screaming for help. They have been deceived. They were gullible and fell for his evil trick.

Doesn’t this remind you so much of the Socialistic agenda? Outlandish, wonderful promises are made and, yet, if you look at this system realistically and historically, there is no possible way for the promises to actually be kept. In fact, if we take the time to truly think about it (rather than to let our greed for free stuff take over), we can see that it will destroy the country we love–and that it is just one short step to Communism from there.

I do not generally write about politics, but this scene from this old movie just keeps playing itself over and over again in my mind. How do we get people to see that their desire for free stuff is like Jeremy and Jemima’s desire for free candy? And that if we should ever take that step into the wagon of Socialism, it won’t be to receive free stuff but instead to be imprisoned in a horrible system from which there is no escape?

We have trained our young people to desire socialism. We have done this in a million ways–from training them to be self-absorbed and entitled to never training them to work hard and to think of others. Now let me assure you that I believe there are still many, many good families–both Christians and non-Christians– who have taught and are still teaching their children good morals and how to work hard. They are teaching them to think of others and to serve their fellow man.

But the fact remains that there are many who are not. And to these young people free equals good. They haven’t been taught to think through the consequences of their choices. Let’s face it, many aren’t even being taught to think at all.

But I guess many of us fall for a similar trick when we fall for sin. We see pleasure and easy money and fun and believe Satan’s lie that it won’t cost anything. But when we step through that door, the candy-coated walls fall away and we see the prison bars of addiction, debt, and obesity. Just to name a few.

Yes, we are all guilty of this to some extent. So it would be best not to be too terribly hard on our friends who think that Socialism is the answer to our country’s problems. It does look pretty good to anyone who hasn’t thought through how the system ends, looking at it both realistically and historically.

It’s important we think anything out to its inevitable end–whether it is a system of government or a choice to sit down at the gambling table.

Everything costs. We’d best remember that.

 

*If you are interested in reading further, here are two posts on two different countries and there Socialism nightmare: One article is here and another one is here.

The New Church

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This Easter Sunday, thousands will attend church who rarely go to church. For those who call themselves Christians, this holiday still holds some significance, even though in everyday life few of these people practice Christianity.

But even attendance on Easter and Christmas is dwindling, as we move further and further away from Judeo-Christian values. Many things have been used to accomplish this cataclysmic shift in culture. And one of those things is sports. Yep, I said it. It is sports.

Last Saturday, I found myself in a huge sports complex for a trade show. As I walked through the building, I saw thousands of kids and adults worshiping the almighty “ball”– The Basketball. The Softball. The Soccer Ball. The Baseball. The Football.

Many years ago, when I was a kid, sports was just a fun thing to do. Kids could play three or four different sports without any worry of them overlapping. They generally had practice right after school so it would not interfere with family dinner. And while a commitment was necessary, you weren’t committing your entire life. There were no such things as tournaments every weekend or year-round seasons.

Fast forward to when my kids were little. This is when it started. I remember one time we made the decision to allow one of our daughters to play in a soccer tournament on a Sunday morning. As I sat there at the edge of the field, I remember being overwhelmed with guilt. What were we doing? Were we teaching our kids the values we wanted them to have by choosing a soccer game over church? Most certainly not. My husband agreed and that was the last time we missed church because of a sporting event.

While I am not judging anyone–everyone has their own reasons and this is between them and the Lord–I do wonder if we shouldn’t bring a little more discernment to this area of sports.

As I walked through that sports complex, it suddenly hit me that Sports has become the new church. It is where people go to catch up on the latest gossip, to watch their cute kids “perform”, to learn teamwork, and to socialize. It is there that parents help “teach” (coach) and provide snacks. It’s where people go to worship. If you doubt it, just watch fans and parents get passionate as they stand on the sidelines. Few of us bring so much feeling to our church worship. This weird new phenomenon of the “sports church” has left most families with little energy and even less free time to fit church responsibilities into an already too busy schedule.

Sports are not evil. They are a gift from God, given to us to enjoy. But when they lead to skewed priorities and are given idol status in our lives–ahead of God and even ahead of what’s best for our families then something is dreadfully wrong.

Now that I am on this side of it and most of my kids are grown, I find myself wondering if parents truly understand the sacrifice they are making to have their kids so involved in something that will not benefit them in the long run?

Sure, they can learn teamwork, but they will learn that same thing at home when they garden, clean, or play games with their families.

Sure, they will learn how to dribble or run bases, but is this really our long-term goal for our child or are there some things that are so much more important?

Sure, it will keep them “out of trouble”, but is it really worth all the lost time we are missing–time we could be spending eating together, playing together, and conversing about important life issues together?

Life is so short. The time we have with our kids is some of the most precious we will ever have in our entire time here on this earth. And while sports can be a wonderful part of family life, we need to be so careful not to allow it to become a thief–a thief of those precious family hours, a thief of the carefree, spontaneous childhood your children deserve, and a thief of the time spent in God’s Word on Sunday mornings. It’s not worth it.

This Sunday will find many extra people in church, but many of them will most likely be back on the sidelines next week. Are you going to be one of them?

 

2016 Hospitality Challenge: March

Invite a couple of acquaintances for coffee (and a February recap)

Hospitality Challenge

March has arrived! I am one day late in posting this because, honestly, this time of year is very, very crazy for me. We have a landscape company and my really busy months are January through April, as we work to get new contracts into the hands of our customers and update and change any systems that didn’t work well last season. With that in mind, I have a confession to make:

I didn’t officially do the G4L Game Night Challenge. I planned to. But before I could get it all in place, we were actually invited to an old friend’s house for a…game night! At that point, life was a bit crazy and our weekends were filling up. And so I made the decision that this would just have to have to suffice for the February challenge.

We got together with two couples, not at my house but at my friend’s house.We hadn’t seen the other two couples–at least to chat about life and enjoy each others’ company– for quite some time. It was actually quite awhile before we even broke out a game, as we sat around talking and catching up.

After awhile, they broke out Twisted Farkle. We had never played any variation of Farkle before so this was all new to us, but we had fun! It made me wonder why we don’t do this type of thing more often. We had a great night re-connecting with old friends.

A few weeks later, our Sunday School class had a special Valentine get-together and we played Bunco, another dice game. This one is especially suited to larger groups. We had a great time as we switched tables and got to know each other in a more relaxed atmosphere. Games have a way of doing that–far more than movies do. They are great for family and friends alike, as we spend a few relaxed hours together.

Did anyone else host (or attend wink) a game night? I would love to hear your stories.

MARCH CHALLENGE

This month, let’s invite a couple of acquaintances from our church or workplace for coffee (or tea). You can meet at a local coffee house or in your own home. Focus on women (or men if you are a man) who may be single, widowed, or divorced–the ones that rarely get invited anywhere because they aren’t a “couple”.

 

With Acceptance Comes Peace

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When you get to be my age, sometimes you look back over your past and you realize just how much you have changed in certain areas. Oh, in many ways, I am still the person I was but–praise God!– in so many ways I am not.

Sometimes it seems that all we hear about the Christian life is brokenness and imperfectness and how that unites us all. And, yes, we are all broken. I actually prefer the term sinful. It’s what we are and it is how we are born. But there is some victory over the years in the life of a servant of God who truly desires to obey the Word of God. I’d like to share one of those small victories with you today. I am not sure I was even aware of it until a conversation took place a few weeks ago.

This person was not happy with their circumstances. They kept reminding me of how unfair it all was and questioning why life wasn’t going a bit more according to their plan.

As I listened, vague memories of my own dissatisfaction with my life circumstances came to my mind. I remembered feeling much the same way about my life situation when I was a young wife with a houseful of small children and a workaholic husband. If you remember, we were building a business. And businesses take hours and hours and hours. My husband has never worked less than 55 hours a week. Many times it was more. (It probably still is). And, of course, in the beginning years, there was little money to show for it. It was a lot of hours for little reward.

I could feel myself growing slightly resentful. I’d hear of things other husbands were doing and how they were able to help their wives and I’d think to myself: That’s just not fair.

But somewhere in that time of my life when I could have grown bitter and resentful over this, the Lord opened my eyes to a wonderful truth–

With acceptance comes peace.

This particular phrase was coined by Elisabeth Elliot. I am using it because it is the simplest, most profound way to say what I learned.

My life was my life. I was not changing my husband. I knew enough to know that. So I could choose to be joyful in my circumstances or I could choose to be a miserable grump. The choice was all mine. And the ramifications of that choice would ripple out across my family.

As I understood this more fully, I came to understand that the only thing I could change was me. Was I so arrogant as to believe that I somehow I had it all together? Did I think my husband had it so easy to be married to me?

Yes, as the Lord opened my eyes to accepting my circumstances, he also opened my eyes to my own bad attitudes, unkind words, and impatience. And it was not a pretty sight.

As I started climbing out of the pit that complaining and dissatisfaction had kept me in, I started realizing just how good I had it. Sure, my husband worked long hours but he loved his family. He was there for the kids whenever he possibly could be, making it to more games and events of theirs than most dads who don’t work those same hours. We had winters together–a few quiet months each year to catch our breath and regroup as a family.

As I started to focus on the positive and not the negative, our family life changed. As I started focusing on fixing myself instead of fixing my husband, our marriage changed.

Oh, I’d like to say I never experienced defeat in this area again, but, of course, life isn’t like that. But remembering that accepting my circumstances is the key to peace (and joy, too) in my life has helped me navigate many an unfair circumstance in my life. That lesson I learned as a young mom has helped me through many difficult times.

Let’s face it–we could all have a reason to be dissatisfied with our lot in life in one way or another. And if the thing we struggle with could be fixed tomorrow, we’d find something else to be unhappy about. It is the very nature of our humanity. We actually have to work against our selfish nature to rise above it and reach acceptance.

Now, let me just add this one thing–

Acceptance is not the same thing as resignation.

Accepting our circumstances does not mean we resign ourselves to the fact that our circumstances will never change. We still pray and ask the Lord to convict those who need to change. We ask Him to turn hearts to Him or to work in an area of our life or someone else’s life that needs changed. Oh, how we neglect the power of God to change people when we don’t get on our knees with diligence and perseverance.

But while we wait for God to work, we have to accept His timing and His sovereignty in the situation and work on our own selves–humbly recognizing our own sinfulness and need for growth.

Yes, this can all be extremely difficult, but the sweet and abundant fruit we yield when we do so is so much different than the bitter, ugly fruit we yield when we don’t.

And, so, there is some victory in the life of a believer truly dedicated to God and His Word. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is so true, isn’t it? —

 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The Word of God will change us–but only if we spend time studying it with a humble and yielded heart.

 

Reclaiming Our Brains

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The other day I was standing at the check-out line in our local grocery store and– out of habit– pulled my phone from my pocket to see what I was missing in the virtual world as I waited in line. At one point, I glanced at my daughter, and she, too, was staring down at the smartphone in her hand, checking on the things going on in her virtual world.

And that’s when it hit me–what are we doing?

Why do we feel so compelled to pull out our phones when even the smallest bit of unfilled time presents itself? Are we afraid of thinking? Are we afraid of standing around looking awkward?

I just can’t believe we are here–that this is the world we live in. A world where–

A child plays with an iPad in the car as they travel the short distance to school.

Grandparents pull out their phones to check their email at dinner.

Parents scroll through Facebook as they wait in the check-out line.

Where people view the news through 2 minute sound bites and you-tube videos at any time and any place they desire.

If we are older than thirty-five, we remember a world where all that we are experiencing now was a big, “pie-in-the-sky” dream. We watched shows like the the Jetsons, but never in our wildest imagination did we believe it would happen in our lifetimes.

But then, ever so subtly, life changed. Drastically. And, one day, we could see the person we loved on the other side of the world as we talked in real-time. And we could pull up any song, any sports clip, any movie on miniature screens before our eyes in our homes and on the bus and in the mall. Any information we needed about a medical condition, any bit of trivia, any sports fact, any scientific theory could be found within seconds on the internet. The only thing that stopped us was if we were out of cell phone range.

And that is when life changed forever.

And some of the changes are good ones. How nice to find out that the strange pain in our elbow isn’t anything to be worried about. Or to locate that actor that we just know we’ve seen on another movie somewhere before.

But with these conveniences come some pretty serious consequences, as well. Being able to communicate instantly with those you love and having access to any information at our fingertips at any time does come with a price.

Here are a few of the costs that come to mind–

Our Relationships

You’d think smartphones and iPads would help our relationships–and I guess they probably do help long-distance relationships. I have a daughter living in another state and it is such a wonderful blessing to see her while we talk via Facetime. But I am not sure the smartphone is quite as beneficial for the relationships we have with our spouses and our kids and our friends who we live and work with everyday.

I have two daughters that have worked as waitresses. They tell me it was not at all unusual for a family of four to be sitting in the restaurant, all of them staring at their phones as they wait for their dinner. Another common thing was to see a preschooler occupied by an iPad during dinner so mommy and daddy could talk. The saddest thing is that these families probably don’t even understand just how very tragic this is because this is the only world they know.

The TV really started the whole thing by dominating our dinnertime. If you drive by houses during the dinner hour in the winter time and glance in the windows, you will see that almost every home has that familiar blue light on within. So many people have stopped talking to each other during this precious time together and have replaced it with screens talking to them.

Have you ever been talking to someone and have them pull out their phone while you are talking to them? Have you done this? I have done this. I am ashamed to admit but I have. What is wrong with me? Why would I make my phone a priority over my family? If even just for a moment? I never want my family or friends to think my phone is more important to me than they are, but sometimes we can give that message if we aren’t careful.

Yes, our relationships are strained and stressed if we keep screens on 24/7. Communication and good discussion is limited. There is no denying it.

Our Concentration Capacity

We struggle so much to stay focused now that we are constantly being pulled in different directions by all this technology. We are becoming so used to a soundbite world since so much of our information now comes to us via two minute videos or 500-word blog posts. Twitter has trained us to think in even shorter sentences. I don’t really get Twitter, so I am not really familiar with it–except to know that there is a word limit on your tweets!

All of this is why pastors have shortened their sermons. It’s why we have such a difficult time reading a whole book or working at a hobby of great detail for any length of time. We have trained our brains to think in soundbites.

Dominate Our Attention

We have, quite freely and willingly, given hours and hours of  our own lives and also the lives of our children to these devices. Probably more than we can count.

Instead of playing outside, children sit in front of a screen. Instead of talking with mommy or daddy on the way to school or the store, children stare at a screen.

Instead of talking to the waitress or cashier, our eyes are on our phones. Instead of doing a puzzle, crocheting, wood-working, or playing a family game, we sit around watching TV or playing games on a screen. At the very least, we are wasting so much precious time.

Of course, it isn’t wrong to do these things in moderation. But many of us left moderation behind a long time ago.

 

There are more costs. These are just three. But perhaps we should spend a little time considering how we can reclaim our brains back from our smartphones. How can we learn to concentrate again? How can we focus on our family members instead of picking up our phone when a text dings or a notification comes in? I have a few ideas. Some have really helped me. Others I haven’t tried yet, but plan to. If you have some to add, please comment below. Please share with us how you reclaimed your brain.

Here are a few ideas–

  1. Do not have your phone in your pocket or laying on the table in front of you when you have your devotions, eat dinner with your family, or are talking with someone about something serious. And while you are at it, turn the TV off, too. Family dinnertime is so precious and we let the world invade that precious time when we allow the TV and our smartphones as part of it.
  2. Turn off notifications. This one really helped me. Instead of being notified about a new e-mail or facebook comment and let it interrupt me at any time, I determine when I will check my apps.
  3. Refuse to pull your phone from your purse or pocket while waiting in line or sitting on a bench at the mall or while waiting for an appointment. Instead, observe the world around you and take it all in. We have such a vibrant, interesting world with no two people the same. Look at those people. Some of them surely need the Lord. Start a conversation and plant some seeds for the sake of the Gospel.
  4. Read a book. A real book. Or a book on your Kindle. Whichever you choose, make sure you have no access to the internet or the opportunity for communication anywhere close by.
  5. Remember that no one needs you that badly. We panic when we don’t have our phones with us now. I can understand why those under 30 feel that way, as they’ve never known any other life, but I don’t really understand it for us older people. Why would we panic? I used to travel 12 hours to college in the snow with no phone (!!) My parents didn’t know if I was dead or alive until I would get around to calling them sometime after I arrived. And this is how we lived. We had no other options. Some of you can remember those days. Now we feel like if we don’t have instant access to our world in our pocket, we will miss a terrible emergency or something. I guess that’s possible. But it’s pretty unlikely.
  6. Put all smartphones in a basket before bed and leave them there for the night. If you have no home phone, then turn the volume up on just one of them and put it on a dresser far away from the side of the bed. This is a rule we would put in place if we had to go back and raise our kids. This whole new world of advanced technology hit us quite unawares and there are many things we would handle differently. This is most definitely one of them.
  7. Last, but certainly not least, ask the Lord for help. If your smartphone use or iPad use is out of control, then ask the Lord to show you how to get it under control. Search the scriptures for some helpful verses. Colossians 3:17 can get you started. We know that God cares for us–about every struggle and every burden. (I Peter 5:7) That’s the kind of God we serve.

I hope this helps. You may be rolling your eyes, wondering why I would even bother to write such a post. You may not have a smart phone or you may have one that you don’t feel tied to. However, I assure you that I have seen enough families not talking to each other in restaurants and I’ve seen enough people of all ages staring at their phones any time and any place (even in church–where some are using it to read their Bible app and some say they are and aren’t) to know that this is a real problem for a lot of people. If you are one of them, then I want you to know there is hope and freedom to be found from this modern addiction. We know God wants us to live lives that glorify Him and we can best do that when our eyes are looking upwards and outwards and not down at our smartphone.