A Million Little Choices

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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?

 

Dear Christian Parent–

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Dear Christian Parent,

My heart aches for you as you try to raise your children for the Lord in a post-Christian country. Years ago, when I was a child, parents received some help from the culture. While most people were not genuine Christians, they did view the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule as truth to live by. This was what their parents had taught them and what their grandparents had taught their parents, repeating the pattern of many generations. The Bible was generally considered a guide for life and very respected among the general population. Of course, this changed forever about a generation ago.

This means that most of the advice you will hear currently on parenting will not be based on scripture, but instead will be advice that finds its roots in humanistic wisdom. This can be very confusing because the way you are being told to raise your kids is almost like night and day from the way your parents raised you or your grandparents raised your parents. How do we know what is the right way? As you might guess, I suggest we turn to the Bible for this. It teaches us the basics and then common sense fills in the gaps.

I have noticed a very disturbing trend among non-Christian and Christian parents alike: The kids are made the center of the family. Life revolves around these adorable little people. As infants, they decide when they will eat and sleep and even in whose arms they will reside. As they get older, for fear of squashing their “tender spirit”, many parents will let them choose what to wear, what to eat, and when they will go to bed. They will buy them everything they can possibly afford and rearrange their whole schedules around a child’s schedule. If what the child wants doesn’t line up with what Mom and Dad want, then cajoling and bribing will often take place. Most parents–and these are parents who want to genuinely want to do what’s right–truly believe that this is the best way to parent.

But have you given any thought to the possibility that it is not?

Before we can determine what is the best way to parent our children, we probably need to think about what our goals and hopes for our kids are. As Christian parents, our dearest hope should be to raise children who embrace God’s plan of salvation, walk in holiness, and grow up to honor and serve the Lord. If this is our goal, then this means that certain things need to take place to prepare the child’s heart for that choice.

First and foremost, they need to learn to live under the authority of their parents. God has set it up so that children first learn about living within boundaries at home. The problem is that few children have many boundaries anymore. From immediately answering the demands of an angry infant who cries the instant they are put in to the crib to cooking special meals for their finicky toddlers, Mom and Dad are actually living under the authority of their children.

This is how so many parent and, honestly, I don’t blame you at all if you parent this way. It’s what you have been told makes you a good parent by the world at large (and sometimes even by the church). But it doesn’t have to be this way. This type of parenting saps so much of the joy from family life because the parent is always tired and feels out of control. God never set it up this way. Proverbs 22:6 says that we are to train up our children. This means parenting is very intentional and not reactive. It also implies that the parent is in control, not the child. It is impossible to train a child who doesn’t first obey.

And, if we follow this pattern of parenting to its logical conclusion, we will realize that many parents today are training their children to be self-centered and demanding. This training will not magically dissipate when they become adults. No, instead, it is our job to start the process of godly training when they are old enough to start wriggling away from us on the changing table.

If you think through the obvious ramifications of child-centered parenting, I am sure that you will agree with me that when these children grow up they will become adults that —

1. Believe the world revolves around them. It will be a difficult transition into the real world when they realize that it doesn’t and I see many adults who can never quite get over this. They cause drama everywhere they go and think the world is falling apart when they don’t get their own way.

2. Believe that they are the final authority of their world and that what they say goes. Instead of turning to God’s Word in humility for life’s answers, they have been taught that they know best. They become prideful and arrogant. They are not teachable in any way because they believe they are always right. This is what Mom and Dad have taught them.

3. Believe they are entitled to the good life without working for it. These individuals sap the life out of society instead of building back into it. From Mom and Dad buying them a piece of candy in the store to keep them quiet to spending thousands on a club sport when they are a teen, many of these kids have never worked a day in their lives. Many don’t even help around the house with the chores. They have never equated material blessings with hard work.

I know parents don’t want this for their children. And it is downright hard to look into the eyes of a sweet, but defiant, child and demand that they obey you and then consistently provide consequences when they do not. It is especially difficult because magazines and morning talk shows and maybe even most of your friends tell you otherwise. And, yet to not do so, is a great disservice to the child. In fact, children thrive with boundaries. They actually are much happier when they have them. It is one of the most loving things you can do for your child.

Proverbs 29:17 Correct your son, and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul.

Second, we need to prepare our children’s hearts by teaching them the Word of God and then validating that teaching with how we live our lives. So often we want to rely on Sunday School and other church programs to teach our kids. But do you know how many children go to church and then end up walking away from the faith as twenty-somethings? Most of the kids that stay true to the faith are the ones that saw Christianity lived out vibrantly before their eyes. You see, anyone can take their kids to church. It takes humility to live according to God’s Word and transparency to set a good (never perfect) example of the Christian life. It takes dedication and hard work to have family devotions and/or to have family discussions about things like creation, abortion, sexual orientation, holiness, and sin. Teaching your kids to use the Bible as their grid for every decision will prepare their hearts to be obedient to God as they head off into their futures. Showing your kids that you use the Bible as your own personal grid when making decisions adds necessary validity to your words.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Third, make sure your kids know that there is nothing they can do that will keep you from loving them. Be an example of unconditional love to them, demonstrating– albeit in a very flawed and human form– God’s all-encompassing love for each one of us.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Fourth, find a family that has kids living for the Lord and find out how they parented. These families are getting harder to find, but there are definitely still some around. I know when I was a young parent, I learned so much from those that were a few steps or a whole lifetime ahead of me. These are the ones to listen to because these are the ones who have proven that their way worked! Anyone can write a magazine article or become a psychologist. Model your parenting after a family who has adult Christian kids who love and serve the Lord.

Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.

And fifth, and finally, dedicate to pray for the best thing. Academics, sports, and the arts are important enough. But, eternally, the best thing–the only thing–that will matter is the soul of your child. Be sure that you pray often and fervently for the souls of your children. I never cease to be amazed at how God’s grace covers the weaknesses of those who truly desire to raise their children for Him. My husband and I experienced (and continue to experience) that kind of grace in a myriad of ways. God is so faithful to those who pray for the souls of their children.

James 5:16b The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

In conclusion, I just want to encourage you to raise your children for the God who created them. Shut your ears to worldly counsel and study the Word of God. Immerse yourself in biblical child-rearing resources (you can find some that were helpful to me here). Godly parenting is certainly not easy but it is the best way–for your children and for you, too. Yes, we live in a crazy, mad world. Yes, things look bleak. Yet, none of this has surprised God. He is still in control. However, it does look as if your children are most likely going to have the opportunity to stand for Christ in a way that we did not have. Train them to do so! Instead of sending weak-willed, undisciplined eternal adolescents into this world, make it your goal to send your kids out as bold and strong soldiers for Christ!

Don’t lose heart!

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Reviewing Fuller House

Fuller House

 

A few weeks ago a new show called Fuller House hit Netflix. After hearing mixed reports about the new show from many Christians, I decided to sit down and watch a couple of episodes myself.

Let me preface this by saying first that, yes, our family did watch Full House. And yes, even so long ago, there were some things in that show that shouldn’t have been there. They were subtle and vague but they were there.  And we Christians–myself included–overlooked them. The show was cute. It was mostly wholesome and family-friendly. We still watch the show occasionally.

I really had high hopes that this spin-off would carry on its predecessor’s traditions and believed it would since–

a) It was advertised as a family show.

b) Candace Cameron, an actress who has declared she is a Christian very openly, is on the show.

c) The original show was pretty clean and family-friendly, overall.

 

But times have changed. A lot. And I should not have had such high expectations.

As I watched a grown-up Stephanie make a crude joke about her barely covered breasts on this series advertised for “families”, my heart sank. This was not for Christian families. It was for a culture that has become totally obsessed with sex.

My heart sank further as I watched. After watching two episodes, I made the choice not to continue watching the series. However, others who continued watching shared with me that future episodes have D.J., played by Candace Cameron, getting drunk, using bad language, and dressing inappropriately. The fact that Candace does these things and also claims to be a believer should be rather disturbing.

Now before you start rationalizing why she may or may not have chosen to do these things as an actress, please don’t. I don’t care why she did them. The fact is she shouldn’t have done them. She shouldn’t even be on a show that contains them.

Why not?

Because the Bible says–

Ephesians 5:8-11: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.

It also says–

James 1:27: Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

These are just two verses. There are so many more verses that not only encourage but command Christians to live a sanctified and holy life that is separate from the world. What do we Christians think “the world” means exactly, if not its sexual crudeness, its bad language, and its lusting after wealth, power, and a good time?

I have no idea why Candace Cameron made the decision to be part of such a show. She may have really good motives. We all make mistakes and she is in the lime light, with hers for everyone to see. I am not judging her personally, but this does not change the fact that she has made a poor choice to participate in a show that is inappropriate for families. And the plain fact is that she will drag a bunch of well-meaning, undiscerning Christians with her into believing this kind of entertainment is okay.

It’s not okay.

It is not okay.

What have we come to that this is accepted for family viewing by Christian families? I know this show is mild compared to many on TV. And probably some of you are rolling your eyes about now. I can almost hear your muttering and grumbling as some of you reflect on how ridiculous you think I am being.

And, honestly, I can understand why. It is because most of us Christians are like the proverbial frog in boiling water, accepting more and more and more worldliness, until we are up to our eyeballs in the filth of this culture, right along with everyone else.

But when do we say enough is enough? What will be disgusting enough to make us turn the TV off? When will we value pleasing our heavenly Father more than we value our own desires?

Look, life is about choices. And this includes what we allow in our homes on that box. The TV in and of itself isn’t evil. But we have a grave responsibility regarding what is played on that screen.

I’ve made many bad choices when it comes to that box. More than I can count. In fact, I almost made another one yesterday.

I sat down to watch a movie I’ve seen many times before. It’s one of my favorites from the 90s. As I started watching, they used my Lord’s name in vain time after time in the worst way possible. And that’s when I realized–I couldn’t keep watching this.

I turned it off. The temptation was to rationalize as to why I could keep watching and I did spend a few seconds doing so, but then–

I turned it off.

And guess what? It wasn’t really that painful. Once the decision was made, I didn’t give it another thought. We can turn it off. When a show gets offensive, we can turn the TV off. We don’t have to keep watching. Our kids don’t have to keep watching.

I hope that this post will give at least some of you a reason to stop and think for just a moment about the TV shows you allow in your home. I hope that at least some of you–even one of you–will rise up and say enough is enough and stop the influx of worldly values and unrighteousness streaming into your home through that box.

Let’s stop joining this pagan culture and enjoying its fruit, but instead be the ones that stand against it, striving to live holy and righteous lives in this perverse generation.

 

Never Regret Growing Older

Never Regret

I could almost hear the little voices from the past. One child asking a question, another one needing a drink, all of them laughing and sometimes fighting. The normal family stuff. The large expo building I was in echoed with memories. Years ago, when the kids were all younger and we home-schooled, we had made many memories there as we set up for a big garden show each year.

I found myself swallowing a bit of nostalgia as I remembered. And, once again, I pondered this thing called time.

How could it possibly have gone so fast?

In a few weeks I will have officially lived for half a century. Half. A. Century. And yet, in my head, I just don’t feel that old. I was talking to a dear friend of mine who is turning 75 this year. And she said the same thing–she just doesn’t feel that old. Time just keeps passing, but inside we don’t feel like we are aging. Of course, while our minds try to fool us into believing that we aren’t really aging, our bodies seem to take great glee in reminding us that we certainly are. 

It’s funny. I used to think that fifty was so OLD. And I guess if you are reading this as a twenty or thirty-something you are thinking that same thing right now. But then there may be a few eighty-somethings reading this and to them, fifty doesn’t sound all that old. But maybe none of that even matters.

Maybe it’s how we redeem whatever time we have been given. However long that is.

I am not sure if it is my upcoming birthday or my realization of how quickly time passes, but the death of country singer Joey Feek last week really hit me hard for some reason. I never heard of her before her illness. I was not a diehard fan of her and her music. But her story showed up on my Facebook feed a few months ago and since then I’ve seen some of the posts on the beautiful blog her husband was writing as they walked through this journey of cancer.

And then on March 4 her life here on earth was over. She was 40 years old. She had two grown daughters and one baby girl, a 2 year old.

Around that time I had been starting to groan a little inside that my 50th birthday was moving ever closer. How could I possibly be 50? But her death stopped my negative thoughts and changed my perspective. I have had ten wonderful years with my family that she will never get. I have been able to watch my babies grow up. I have watched countless soccer and basketball games. I have had the honor of watching three of my four kids get married. And the excitement of hearing that my first grandchild is on the way. Joey Feek will never have those things.

Many years ago–perhaps when I was twenty-something, I was browsing through a Hallmark store and found a little plaque that said these words:

Never regret growing older
It’s a privilege denied to many

At that point, my 50th birthday felt like it was light years and a lifetime away. In fact, I doubt I spent much time contemplating it at all. But for whatever reason, I picked up that little plaque and it still sits on a dresser in our bedroom. And it has reminded me through the years of the blessing life is, no matter what age we are.

Oftentimes when I write a post like this, people will write and tell me that 50 isn’t so bad, so let me assure you that it is not the actual age that is of any concern for me. I look forward to this new era of my life. Instead, it is the fleeting nature of time that I am still working my brain around. It’s not that I am dreading what is ahead of me, it’s that I am stunned and a little saddened by what I am leaving.

It reminds me of when we decided to move out of the first home we owned. Even though we were headed to a wonderful, new house, it was still sad to leave our little rancher where so many wonderful memories had been made. It had been our home for nine years and had rung with laughter and crying and arguments. It had witnessed birthday parties, Christmas mornings, and a myriad of home school days. Even though we were moving to a home much better suited for the needs of our growing family, there was still a touch of sadness that hung over that day.

And that’s just how it is with change. Even good changes often bring a little sadness with them. But life is not stagnant and it does keep changing.

And so that means that my milestone birthday is just around the corner. But that’s okay. Because I am just thankful to be alive. Every day I am here on earth is an opportunity to serve my Savior and to love my family. Having the opportunity to have done that for 50 years is a privilege! And I guess we should treat it as such.

So if you, too, are reaching a milestone birthday this year, let’s do away with the black balloons and gag gifts. And, instead, let’s celebrate! God has been good and we have been blessed. Lord-willing, we will have more birthdays for which to thank Him.

 

The Truth About Rock Music

rockmusic

Wait! Before you write me off as being way out there, give me just a moment of your time. Please.

Let me first say that much of what I have learned these past few weeks isn’t really new to me. I had just conveniently located it to the very back of my mind where it wouldn’t inconvenience me. It is so disturbing and uncomfortable that it was just easier not to remember.

But then came a couple of Bible studies that required some investigation into the rock scene. And, suddenly, I found myself wading through all of this stuff again. Only in the last twenty-five years it has gotten so much worse that it is mind-boggling–and absolutely frightening.

In fact, I feel like I landed in a pit so full of satanic iniquity and such wicked depravity that some of the actual photos and footage that I saw in my research will be indelibly etched on the canvas of my memory forever–it was that disturbing and heinous.

Rock music has always had a satanic influence. It does not really take all that much research to figure that out. Just google the Beatles and Hinduism and you will see it almost immediately. They were very open about their Hindu activity and even secular websites confirm this. But, as wild as the 60s were, the society wasn’t quite ready for outright false religion and songs promoting open sex and drug use and so many of their song lyrics had double meanings and hidden agendas.

Of course, all the changes in the last 50 years have made hidden agendas and double meanings unnecessary. This has happened through a very systematic hardening of our consciences. And so evil and ungodly lyrics have been eagerly accepted by a fan base that doesn’t pay any attention at all to what they are filling their brains with.

(Again, as I mentioned in Love and Snakes–I find it not only inconceivable that so many Christians are  paying such little attention to the wickedness of this music, but I continue to be astounded that there are so few of us Christians sounding a warning and when we work up the courage to do so, we find ourselves marginalized, criticized, or ridiculed by fellow believers!)

I started my study on the Billboard website with some of the songs listed as Top Ten on the pop charts over the past month. What I found were foul, crude, worldly lyrics promoting all types of sin. While some were worse than others, not ONE was promoting God’s kingdom. All were instead varying degrees of darkness.

I then moved on to the artists themselves. Who were these people that were coming into our homes and cars on a regular basis through their music?

With the 80s influences of Madonna and Micheal Jackson– who were perhaps some of the first openly satanic artists to be played on the radio– the way was paved for many more to come. Recent rock stars such as Beyonce, Kesha, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Jay Z, Eminem, and Nicky Manaj (just to name a few), have filled the American culture with an abundance of ungodly, crude, and sexual lyrics and, even worse, very graphic music videos. This, of course, I suspected before I started doing my research. What rather stunned me however was the plethora of satanic symbols and images. As I studied, I found that many of these artists claim to have sold their soul to the devil or to be possessed by demons. This was by their own admission, recorded on video or found in reputable sources.

Now keep in mind –this is the music that is playing on the Pop Charts of America. This is the music that is playing in our grocery stores, at our hair salons, and in our doctor’s offices. These are the artists that most American Christians are listening to.

It’s funny because when I heard Lady Gaga sing at the Super Bowl the other night, I thought, “Wow, she has a really good voice.” Sure, she looked a bit strange but she wasn’t too way out there, looking almost normal. However, unfortunately for me, I was aware of who she really is and some of the images I stumbled upon from her concerts and videos are the most disturbing I have ever seen in my life. If Satan can show himself as an angel of light then I guess Lady Gaga can also sing beautifully, even though what she has represented over the past decade in our culture is of such hideous darkness it is almost impossible to comprehend.

So why do I share this here? On a blog dedicated to spiritual growth?

I write it here because I think most of us are absolutely clueless regarding the danger this music presents to our spiritual health. We just allow this music to play in our homes and in our cars and in the ears of our kids–never giving it a second thought. The tunes are catchy and for some reason that seems to be all we need for it to get our seal of approval.

It is so easy to fall to peer pressure in this area of music. I know that I, myself, was quite guilty of this. Years ago, I learned quickly that if I mentioned my concern about rock music, I would be called narrow-minded, ridiculous, uneducated, etc. etc. Eventually, especially as my kids grew into teenagers, I got pretty tired and I let my guard down just a bit. Oh, we were still really careful, but it was truly exhausting and I didn’t want to come across as too out there for my kids’ sake and so I conveniently moved all of this to the very back of my mind. I just tried to forget all I knew. It was just easier. At the time.

I would definitely go back and change that if I could.

But fast forward my life to just a few weeks ago when I found myself up to my eyeballs in the lewd depravity of the rock music industry. I just can’t even begin to describe how awful it all is. And maybe worst of all–how precious and beautiful young girls and boys, many of them Disney stars as youngsters, are morphed into larger-than-life rock musicians that promote everything God abhors and how so many of their fans–usually tweens and teens– just follow them down into the dark pit.

How can we stand by as soldiers of the Light and not sound an alarm??

God is light. We once walked in darkness, but now we walk in the marvelous light! We are to walk as children of the light, which means we are to not only turn away from works of darkness but we are to expose them (see verses below).

If this music is something that beckons you or someone you love, may I encourage you to do your own research? I think you will be more than a little alarmed and shocked at what you will find out. And may we pray for deliverance of ourselves and our families from the evil influence of this demonic music.

 

Ephesians 5:8-13-For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit[b] is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.

John 8:12Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

Acts 26:17-18I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now[a] send you, 18 to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

I John 1:5-7This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

I Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

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.

 

Living in Stepford

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I can still remember the “made for TV” movie called The Stepford Wives  in the 1970s. It starrrd Barbara Eden of I Dream of Jeannie fame and, for whatever reason, made quite an impact on me. Many years later, maybe in the 90s, they remade the movie but I never watched that version, so I don’t know how similar it was to the first one.

The original movie was set in the town of Stepford, where an evil thing was happening –the husbands of the town were replacing their real wives and children with perfect robotic versions of them. Barbara Eden’s character gets wind of this and the movie is about her and her children fighting for their lives. The plot is a bit vague in the back of my mind and I don’t remember much, but I do remember one thing–it was creepy seeing all that “perfection”.

Yes, dear.

No, dear.

What do you want for supper, dear?

It wasn’t…normal.

Sometimes in life we see families a little like this. Of course, we know they are real people, but from the outside all looks to be quite perfect–at least for awhile. And, yet, in so many of these families the kids walk away from the Lord when they grow up. Why is that?

I have spent some time pondering the effects of legalism on a family. Why do some families who live by a set of rules have their kids grow up practicing a vibrant faith, while other families, living by those same rules, lose their kids to the world?

I believe this is a very valuable discussion, because many of us have grown so afraid to lay down strict rules for our children because we are so afraid of losing their hearts. But I don’t believe that one leads to the other. In fact, I have seen as many kids walk away from the faith who had permissive parents as those who walked away from the Lord under the care of strict parents.

So what is the key to raising kids who love the Lord? If it isn’t a set of rules or not having a set of rules, what is it?

It can be puzzling for us to see these churches and families who look a little like Stepford, But, perhaps, some of them, like the Pharisees, have never been cleaned from the inside out.

And so perhaps that is the answer to my question–

Some families are only focusing on the outside set of rules–concerned for their reputation and outward appearance. These families leave little room for discussion and use terms like “because I said so” and “you’re grounded” quite often. But other families are more concerned about their children’s walk with God, and they focus on the heart, recognizing that this is the fountain from which a holy life springs. These parents spend just as much time communicating and discussing the Word of God and what to live a Christian life means as they do disciplining bad behavior.

Actually, if you really think about it, legalism is just another false religion, isn’t it?

Last year I wrote a post on this topic of false religion. Here are a few paragraphs from it to remind us what exactly makes a religion true or false–

False religion teaches that your eternal destiny lies in your hands in one way or another. It will teach that you need to do something in order to be saved. Oh, they all vary in what that something is and they might even throw in as part of their doctrine something about Jesus saving you from your sins, but false religion will always require something other than faith alone.

Ephesians 2:8-9 confirms this–

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

And so if we teach that we must add something to be right with God, we become heretics. This makes legalism damning–for it is a set of rules that needs to accompany saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Does that mean we need to toss all rules to the wind?

Of course not. Just as we need laws and policeman to enforce them to keep the public safe and secure, so we need to have some rules to keep our children safe and protected. It is our job. But we can never make the rules the heart of our parenting.

And, as our kids grow into teens, our rules should always have a reason based on the Word of God. For it is there we want our young adults to find their authority. It is there we want them to go with their questions and decisions.

Our family has been accused of legalism so often I can’t count. It seems in this culture, convictions and legalism equal the same thing. But I want you to know they are absolutely not the same thing.

Making a choice to do or not do something that is based on our love for Jesus and our desire to be like Him is not legalism. That is called a desire to be holy and pure, as commanded in scripture on multiple occasions (I Peter 1:15-16; Colossians 3:12)

And so, as believers, we shouldn’t pretend to be living in Stepford. And, honestly, who are we going to win for the gospel with that kind of Christianity, anyway? It looks impossible and the results are mixed, at best.

So let’s be real. Let’s make sure the world knows we aren’t perfect and that we continue to battle with sin each and every day. Let’s stop trying to look so perfect to the outside world–as if by becoming a Christian, our life somehow becomes perfect. But let’s also make sure we continue to strive to live a holy life, putting rules and guidelines in place that help us in our desire to be more like Jesus and to live a life that honors God, all the while keeping the focus on our hearts and the hearts of our kids, knowing that this is where all behavior is rooted.

And let’s remember the important difference between legalism and conviction, not allowing fingers pointed at us and voices calling us “legalistic” and “narrow-minded” to keep us from doing the right thing as we strive to live a life that is holy and separate from the world.

 

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.

 

How Do You Say Good-Bye?

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This year brought so many changes into my life. It was an exciting, exhausting, and emotional year. With two weddings and the announcement that we are going to be grandparents, life took a turn that I knew was coming but, for some reason, was not really prepared for. I guess it’s a little like when you get married or become a parent–you can try to prepare for what you know is coming, but there is no way to really understand until you are in the midst of the new situation, taking one day at a time.

Another big change we had this year was that one of our daughter’s and her husband moved across country after their wedding. The two of them made plans to come home for the holidays and so only three weeks ago we were waiting for them with great anticipation. We have had a wonderful time with them the past couple of weeks.

But, eventually, our final moments together approached.

We are all familiar with them. Those last few hours of time together. Wanting to make the most of it. But not really quite sure how. Talking about weather and places and people. Trying to ignore the fact that, all too soon, we will have to say good-bye for another few months or longer.

Every hello means an eventual good-bye. For some of us we are the visitors, packing up our families to stay with parents or siblings over the holidays. For others of us, we are the parents and siblings the rest come to see. Whatever we do over the holidays, most of us experience sweet hellos and sad good-byes during this time.

We get together, spending an unusual amount of time together. We try to get along, knowing that we won’t see each other again for who knows how long. It can be a challenge for so many people to live together in one house, but, for so many of us, this time spent with family is just such a wonderful blessing.

It is a strange emotion–this dread to say good-bye to our loved ones but this yearning to go back to the routine of life that we are so familiar with. And we wonder why we can’t have our routine and the people we love in our lives at the same time. But that’s just not how it is. And, for many of us, will never be how it is. It’s just life in this day and age of careers, callings, and desires drawing people to live in places all over the country. And all over the world.

And so we have joyful holiday reunions and tearful good-byes. And we thank the Lord for bringing us together again and ask Him if He would bless us with another visit again next year.

And then things settle back down to our normal routine again and we have to be satisfied with e-mails, texting, and Skype. It’s just how it is.

No spiritual lesson here today. Just a mother’s heart that was sad to say good-bye. Again. Do we ever get used to this?

 

One of our attempts at a family photo over the holidays…

p.s. Did you make it through the 2015 Bible Challenge? If so, visit my growing4life Facebook page and let me know!