What My Gingerbread House Taught Me About Social Media

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Our culture has an obsession with pictures. In fact, most of the younger generation has abandoned Facebook for more photo-based apps like Instagram and Snapchat.  There is no denying that we live in a world that is dominated by photos.

Photos demanding we look better.

Photos demanding we have more stuff.

Photos telling us our homes aren’t enough. Our parenting skills are lacking. Our creativity is wanting.

Photos crying out that we just aren’t enough.

This has led to a culture of perpetual dissatisfaction and restlessness. If we aren’t careful, even those of us who are older can get caught up in this. We see warm family photos on Facebook and we think to ourselves–I wish I had that. We see teens winning awards, homes that should be in a magazine, and the creative projects of our talented friends and we think–if only…

But photos don’t show the whole story. They never show the whole story.

Which I learned in a big way the other night.

One of our daughters planned a family gingerbread house contest. Building gingerbread houses has been part of our Christmas family traditions for years now but this is the first time we had a contest. We took photos of the houses and put them on Facebook and let Facebook viewers choose the winner.

My husband and I were a team and I was excited because he is a master gingerbread house builder! As you may already know, he is a landscape designer so he has a great eye for design. Unfortunately for me, he had also had very little sleep the night before and had been out for a snow/ice event the whole day. The timing was not going to be helping us to clinch a win!

We started out pretty well. He was manning the icing bag and I was holding the graham crackers in place. It was going pretty well until we got to the roof. Just as we carefully placed the last cracker in its designated spot, the whole thing caved in. It was around that time that our grandson started to fuss in his high chair, so I decided to take on baby duty, confidently leaving the building of the house in the hands of my very capable husband.

A few minutes later, I came back to find my husband decorating half of a house!

I found out that he had tried twice more and the house just kept collapsing. Now on a different day– with a little more sleep and without a cute baby grandson begging his attention nearby–my husband would have kept trying. But on this night, he gave up. I handed the baby to him (which is exactly what he wanted!) and told him I’d finish decorating.

Then it was time to take the photos for Facebook. We moved our house to just the right angle and ended up with this–

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What the carefully taken photo didn’t show was this–

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So, we had an adequate house for our contest photo (can’t say it is our best work, by any means) but what no one could see was that it was completely unfinished in the back!

Oh, how this is the same for so much of what we see in our photo-driven world. How much we don’t see!

The model’s desperate battle with anorexia.

The movie star’s drug addiction.

The neighbor-down-the-street’s marriage issues.

The rebellious son’s antics of our picture-perfect church friend.

Social Media is a wonderful tool. It keeps us in touch with each other and we are able to cry and laugh and rejoice with one another. But sometimes the photos we see creep into our soul and give us a deep longing for something more. We start believing that God hasn’t give us enough and there is this illusive “perfect” life waiting for us out there somewhere.

Don’t be fooled! Not only is this untrue, believing this lie can potentially ruin marriages, families, and churches.

Scripture shows us that God is intentionally designing and directing our lives (Proverbs 16:9; Psalm 139:16), and it also shows us that it is God’s will that we be content with the life He has given us (Hebrews 13:5; I Timothy 6:6).

This can be a challenge for us in a world that is a swirling, writhing mass of discontentment.

If this is something you struggle with (like I do!), may I recommend the book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. It is an old book so it isn’t easy to read, but it is full of profound wisdom in this area of contentment.

I hope that our gingerbread house incident hasn’t only reminded me of the inadequacy of a photo but that it has also reminded you. I hope that we are all encouraged to consider this area of contentment in our lives as we view the world around us–particularly social media. Choosing contentment when everyone else around us is in a constant state of complaining dissatisfaction is truly one way we can really stand out as believers in Jesus Christ.

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.

 

Pressing Through the Storm

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Raising kids is hard. Really hard if you want to do it right. It means saying no when everyone else says yes. It means setting boundaries, being consistent, and setting a godly example in all areas of life–at least giving it our best effort and then resting in the knowledge that God will make up for our weaknesses. It requires much prayer and lots of time in The Word.

Being an influence for good in the workplace is hard. It’s really hard if you want to not only be a good influence, but a godly one. It means forsaking popularity. It means that you may be teased, harassed, and targeted. It requires lovingly telling the truth when no one wants to hear it. And standing apart from the crowd, being lonely, and loving difficult people.

How about being a godly spouse? Or a blessing to your church family?

These are things we know are God’s will. We are supposed to be godly parents and spouses. We are supposed to be working for God’s glory in our church family and in our workplaces. But sometimes it’s just downright hard. We try so hard to do the right thing but it doesn’t always work out like we hope. People don’t like us. Or they get in the way of the good things we are trying to accomplish. Sometimes very intentionally. We are hurt. We are attacked. We are afraid.

It is at this point that many–if not most–of us cave. The storm rages around us and we grow frightened. We lose any bit of courage we may have had and we tuck our tail and run.

We go into hiding in our workplaces, staying quiet as a mouse when the subject of God comes up. We laugh at the dirty jokes and gossip by the water cooler. Anything to keep from standing out.

We stay at the fringes of the church family. Never really knowing anyone. Or offering to help in any ministry. It’s just easier and much less painful.

We become ineffective (or even negative influences) in our homes. We let our screaming toddlers and rebellious teenagers do whatever they want. We give up on our spouses and we stop praying for them. We become tired and hopeless.

But yesterday, as I read Ezra 4 for our G4L Bible Challenge, I realized anew the importance of pressing on through the storms of life. When the Jews were sent back to rebuild the temple, there was a group of people who plagued them constantly. They tried to discourage them, to frustrate them, to keep them from building (Ezra 4:4-5). And, yet, they kept on plugging away. At one point, they were required to stop working because of a letter filled with lies that this group sent to the King. But they didn’t give up hope. And, sure enough, they were back working at the temple years later.

God wanted that temple re-built, and so it was going to be re-built.

No man can stand in God’s way.

But that was then. And this is now. Those were God’s chosen people living that story and we are Americans living a world away and thousands of years later. If we don’t need to build a temple for God then what does God want for our lives? What is His will for us?

Perhaps we are supposed to be temple-building, as well–

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.(I Corinthians 6:19-20)

Our body is a temple– the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Our calling as believers is to keep our temples pure and holy, obeying and glorifying God. We are to be confessing and eradicating sin. We are to live apart from the world and shine as bright lights of hope.

Building our temple is giving our whole-hearted efforts to our roles as spouses and parents. It’s building up the church and being a godly example at work. As we build our temple, it will change every area of our lives.

When we grow scared or angry, we have to keep working on our temple. We weather through powerful storms with scripture study and prayer. We do this for the sake of our marriages, our kids, our churches, and for the lost who live and work beside us. We can’t become ensnared in human drama and give up. Like the Jews in Ezra, we need to keep building, placing one brick at a time until, one day as our eyes close in death, we can see the temple we have built before us– A lifetime of service to the one, true God!

Sure, we may be given a mandatory pause due to illness or some other unforeseen circumstance but then we get back at it again. And if it’s in our control, then let’s not pause for too long. Because when we stop using our muscles we atrophy. Our bodies grow weak and useless. And because kids don’t wait. Before you know it, they have grown and there is no more time for Bible memory verses or family devotions. And because people die and move away. And tomorrow, that co-worker may no longer be there.

We need to keep our eyes on the goal and let the rest go. Just let it go. The storm may howl around us. The winds may blow. But, through it all, we keep building, remembering what’s important–

To know God and to make Him known.

 

 

Middle-Aged Marriage: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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If anyone would have told me how hard this time of my life would be I don’t think I would have believed them. I was not prepared for the changes and the emotions that would encompass this time. Kids leave our homes to start their own adventures, our bodies do crazy things to us, and life is filled with doubts, regrets, and disappointment as we reflect on past choices or wonder about the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys”. Life-changing events during middle-age– college, ill or elderly parents, weddings, grandchildren, kids moving away–often come at us quickly and unrelentingly, bringing ever-constant change. All of this can be very hard on a marriage. And it can be pretty ugly.

My husband and I used to wonder how couples could stay together for 25 or 30 years and then divorce when the kids left the house. But now that we are here, it makes a lot more sense. There are a lot of emotions surrounding this time of life for both husband and wife. If you go into it without a solid base of devotion to God and friendship with each other, it will prove extra challenging and sometimes impossible. Some marriages survive it and some don’t.

Today my husband, Eric, and I celebrate 27 years of marriage. In some ways it feels like just yesterday that we said our vows and drove off in an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (anyone remember those?) but, in other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago. I’d like to tell you that with age, marriage has grown easy and that we are coasting in to the finish line. But that would be a lie.We both married sinners and so we continue to strive to work together. Some times are easier and some times are harder. These past couple of years would probably fit under “harder” for us.

This is why I am so thankful that I married a guy who has continued to be my best friend through all of the ups and downs. Let me assure you–our story is no fairytale. There have been serious struggles. But through it all, God has shown Himself so faithful.

Since it is our anniversary, I can’t help but reflect on why my husband and I are still such good friends even in the midst of this all. I think one of the main reasons is that he isn’t too proud to say he is sorry. I also love that he is willing to work at our marriage and will plan romantic things or read books just for me, even though his heart isn’t in them. I am glad he hates discord and won’t let more than an hour go by without talking if we are in a disagreement. And I am thankful for a husband who desires to please God with his life and who desires to obey His Word.

I am not sure why God led me to this man, but I am certainly glad He did. And I’m glad that God has walked with us every step of the way–through the dark times and through the good times.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea here. There are many times that we are so frustrated with each other we could scream. My husband isn’t even close to perfect, so don’t go comparing your husband to mine. No, instead, think right now of the good things your husband brings to your marriage. Unless you are married to a complete loser, you know there are some. The same thing goes for you men– remember the good things about your wives. Oh, how important it is at any stage of marriage to always remember why we fell in love!

And just a brief side note here: If you are a mom still in the middle of laundry and soccer games and homework and diapers, I want to encourage you to keep working at your marriage. Don’t let the kids steal your heart. Always remember that you have a man who still needs you. Because some day, all too soon, you will find yourself with only him. Make sure he is not a stranger.

Some of you have been reading this blog for a while now and you have been walking with me through this new stage of life. Many of you have been there and have offered encouragement. Or you are there and can relate to what I write. Thank you for that.

The good news is that I think I am starting to see some of the benefits to this upcoming stage of  marriage. We are able to go out for dinner without finding a babysitter. We can sit and talk uninterrupted. There is a whole lot less chaos and stress in our home. And, of course, we have a little more extra money with only one teenager in our house instead of four! And, so, I think once things settle down here, we will become used to our new normal and we will find ourselves even more deeply in love.

Until then, I would just like to say Happy 27th Anniversary to my wonderful husband. He reads this blog faithfully to support me (another thing I appreciate!) so I know he will see this. I love you, Eric, and if I could choose, I’d marry you all over again.

 

Ironing for Jesus

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The other day, as we prepared for yet another wedding, I watched my brother and sister-in-law. They efficiently and diligently did every task asked of them without complaint or attitude. I have seen them do this before. Since they never complain and no job is too small or “beneath” them, they are wonderful to have around! While we have had so many helpful relatives and friends give us a hand these past few weeks, on this particular day there were just a few of us and I watched my brother and his wife closely. As they quietly worked, much got done and there was no drama. They willingly and gladly did anything necessary to help. By the end of the day, I was convicted.

On the way home that day, I asked the Lord to help me be more like them. I told him that I wanted to stop complaining when a task is boring or hard. Or when I’d rather be doing something else.

Little did I know that God would present me with a situation that would test my earnest prayer the very next day.

We had tablecloths to iron. Lots of tablecloths to iron. Somehow I ended up at an iron (probably because no one else wanted to do it!) But these weren’t just any tablecloths. These things were so difficult to iron. There was no feeling of accomplishment even when I’d spend 15 minutes on one tablecloth. I am convinced that many of the wrinkles in these rented cloths were permanently in place.

This made for a pretty discouraging task. For a variety of reasons–

It was hot.

It was boring.

And there was no possible way to do it well.

As I watched everyone having all the fun of decorating the venue, I stood at the ironing board, dutifully doing my “mom” thing but not with a very good attitude. I was bummed and started complaining inside my head. And then the complaints started spilling out of my mouth.

And that’s when the Holy Spirit challenged me.

Did you really mean what you prayed yesterday? Because this is a test.

No, I didn’t hear the words. But I was convicted.

I made a choice to stop complaining in that instant. What did it matter? Why not spare someone else from having to do this awful job and let others have the fun? The only reason I even cared was because I was thinking only of me. If this was my job, then I would do it cheerfully. I went to work and, instead of being resentful about missing out on all of the fun, I put on some uplifting music and chose to enjoy watching all of the activity.

Thankfully, God was so kind to me and provided my mom to help me with the ironing a little later on. But not before I learned a good lesson. Sometimes we don’t get to do the fun job or the job we think we should. Instead we are asked to do the job that we don’t want to do. The one that perhaps we think we are too good for. And that’s when our true character shows, isn’t it? That’s when we see who we really are inside. Because anyone can be pleasant and diligent when they are doing what they want to do.

Thankfully, the Lord hasn’t given up on me yet and so, while this could have ended up as one of my many spiritual failures, in this particular instance I made a choice, through the nudging of the Holy Spirit, to respond correctly and started ironing for Jesus.

One of my favorite verse came to mind while I did so–

Colossians 3:23-24  And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

Are you doing your mundane or hated tasks with a joyful heart and pleasant attitude? If not, I encourage you to, this day, think through your attitude. For it is here that Satan can so easily ensnare us. We Christians don’t always view our bad attitudes as sinful, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are sinful.

Let’s improve our characters by making the conscientious choice to smile in the boring tasks. To praise God through the difficult demands. And to be humble when asked to do something we think is beneath us. For in doing so, the light of our Lord and Savior will shine ever so brightly through us!

 

The Thing Anger Never Accomplishes

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Anger is just one of those things we justify, isn’t it? We can come up with so many different reasons why we should be “allowed” to be angry. Such as–

Someone said something unkind

Our spouse didn’t meet our expectations

Someone isn’t giving us something we want

Our co-worker isn’t carrying their load

Our kids are too noisy or too defiant or too annoying

The line is soooooo long

We are cut off on the highway

Our phone quit working

We spilled coffee on our laptop

The dog chewed a hole in the carpet

There are over a million reasons that we Christians will use to rationalize our angry outbursts or our seething, simmering, cold silences.

As in —pretend they aren’t sinful. Pretend they aren’t our fault. Pretend that we aren’t to blame for our anger. We convince ourselves that it is someone else’s fault. It is certainly not ours.

When we do this, we do feel better, don’t we? At least on the surface. This requires no repentance. No work on our part to change. No guilt.

The past few weeks we have been reading in Proverbs in our Bible Challenge. There is so much wisdom in this book of the Bible that I have found myself liberally highlighting many of the verses there. But the verses on anger may have been especially appropriate for me with this read-through. Let me tell you why–

Recently, I have fallen prey to this dangerous anger game. I would be irritated or frustrated and instead of taking responsibility, found it easier just to blame it on someone else. Even as I write, I find myself a little reluctant to take full responsibility for my anger. After all, she did this…or he said that

And then my Sunday School teacher said something the other week that stopped me in my tracks. (Thank you, Morris!)–

Your anger will never accomplish anything for God’s righteous purposes.

I felt like he was speaking directly to me (and–if I’m honest– maybe to my husband, too!) We have had an interesting last few months. Interesting seems a good word, since I don’t want to complain. Most of what is happening is really good–some of what is happening is not so good, but, through it all, we are very aware that we are so blessed. But what all of these changes have led to is a whole lot of stress and intensity of feelings that is a bit outside our norm as a family.

My teacher’s words struck a chord deep within as I realized that I had been trying to use anger (it’s cold, punishing silence and the occasional unkind outbursts) to try to make things the way I want them to be. Or to fix something. Or to make someone feel guilty. Or to change someone’s mind.

There are many reasons to be angry and to act on that anger– but none of them are for God’s glory.

Anger can be a very effective tool. But there is always a way that we could do it better and more effectively. Anger is never the best way. Sure, we may be able to make our kids obey us by screaming at them, but if we train them to only respond when our voice reaches a certain pitch, then they will continue in that same pattern with their own kids. How much wiser to keep our voices low and demand obedience immediately, with consistent consequences to follow.

And let me make something very clear– I am not saying that we did this right. I am here saying we didn’t do this right. Anger has always been a struggle for us in our family. We can see the fruits of it in our kids’ lives and we are sending them off into the world to fight their own battles with this sin. We could have done such a better job in this area. Oh, we never threw plates or shouted obscenities, but we did let many angry words fly over the years and for that I have great regret.

Especially when I think of it in light of the words of my teacher.

I remember someone talking about angry words years ago and comparing them to toothpaste– once they are squeezed out of the tube, you cannot put them back in. Our kids don’t forget the mean, hateful things we say in the heat of an argument or temper tantrum. Neither do our spouses and other family members. Self-control–that fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23–is very much in need when it comes to this sin of anger. For even if we are angry, we need to think first and confess before we act on it.

If we are human, we will have to admit that anger is as natural a feeling as being happy or sad. We humans, without exception, hate our plans being thwarted. Sure, some of us get worked up much more easily than others, but we all have our limit. We all have our threshold of when enough is enough. How that looks is different for all of us. Some of us are screamers. Some of us grow icy cold and quiet. Anger is a sin in both cases, although screamers tend to have more pieces to pick up after it’s all over. Some withhold conversation or physical touch in order to punish, others may yell and curse– or even occasionally throw something –but both reactions are sinful reactions.

There are a few sins that have become extremely accepted by the church — to the point that we rarely even discuss them anymore. I believe anger is one of them.

I have no idea today if you have fought this battle, are fighting this battle, or aren’t even convicted about this. You know where I’m at. I need prayer. These next few months promise to be so happy and exciting, but also stressful and demanding and, yes, even a little sad. I want to rise to the occasion and be a good testimony– I don’t want to flounder in my own wants and desires, demanding my own way. I want to remember that anger never accomplishes God’s righteous purposes!

I hope that you feel the same way. Here are some verses to get us started on our way to battling this sin.

Proverbs 16:32
Ephesians 4:26
Ephesians 4:31
Ephesians 6:4
Colossians 3:8
I Timothy 2:8
James 1:19
Galatians 5:16-26
Matthew 5:22

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Weekend Reflections

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Today’s post is not typical and there really isn’t going to be any spiritual lesson. Instead, I am going to try to encapsulate my emotions from this past weekend just a bit. We had my son’s wedding on Saturday (which you already know) and then we had my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary party on Sunday. S0, before we go any further, I will answer the question I know you are thinking– yes, I am a bit crazy to do that. That has already been established.

However, just so you know, my brother is from out-of-town and this just made the most sense. Plus we were able to use the wedding venue and the wedding centerpieces, so it came together pretty easily–especially when you have a sister-in-law and a daughter who should really go into party-planning as a business…

Now that we have my sanity (or lack thereof) established, we can move on to some of my impressions from the weekend.  As mentioned above already, this is certainly not my normal kind of post but I thought I would share this here because so many of us share the same emotions when it comes to our children and our parents. I’ll get back to my normal style on Thursday.

So, first, my impressions of Saturday–

I guess if you read my blog, you are already familiar with the fact that I have been on an emotional roller coaster regarding this wedding. Let me say first and very clearly, this roller coaster had nothing to do with my son’s choice of a bride. She is the perfect choice for him and we couldn’t be more thankful. The fact that her parents are some of our closest friends is a very special bonus. It’s the stuff in life you could never plan! I think, rather, that it was partly because it was my only son’s wedding and I knew he now would officially have another woman as his priority in life. Some of you will get what I’m saying and some of  you won’t. I also think it was because the reality of the empty nest is starting to set in now.

But, last Monday, I started to feel so much better. Over the course of the next few days, I had three or four dear, dear friends text or tell me in person that they were praying for me. I could feel their prayers holding me up and I had a great week last week. Prayer is an amazing thing.

And, this morning, I am okay. I am really exhausted but I’m okay. Although, I cannot lie–there is a big empty sadness that fills me when I think about my son’s room never being occupied by him again. It’s just so…strange.  No one ever tells you when your babies are little what it feels like to watch your birdies try their wings and fly off away into their own lives. I find myself wishing I didn’t feel so deeply. It makes it so much harder.

But we are so excited for our son–and for our two daughters– and their future lives. They have all grown up to be responsible adults who want to follow Jesus and have found spouses who want to do the same. What more could you ask as parents? While there may be some mourning over what was, I stand amazed (and also filled with a bit of relief if I think back to the question marks of the teen years!) when I look at my adult kids. They are not perfect kids and we are far-from-perfect parents. We take no credit. God is so good. And He is so faithful.

Which leads me to my impressions of Sunday–

As people started to file in to my parents’ party I saw many dear friends that I hadn’t seen for so many years. Memories of yesteryear filled my mind. And I had to think of how God uses certain people in our lives at certain times and then they leave the stage of our lives and we move on. It’s the nature of life. We move, we change jobs, we change churches, and we become disconnected. And it makes me thankful for two things–first, that we are graced with the presence of so many dear friends throughout our lives. People who have supported us and encouraged us just when we needed it. What an incredible blessing from God! And, second, for the really special friends that God gives us that hang around our entire lives. At the party were a few friends that my parents have remained close to through all of the changes in their lives. They have a special connection (I call it a “kindred spirit”) with my parents and have been with them through thick and thin. If we are fortunate enough to have just a few “kindred spirit” friends, we are beyond blessed. True friends are hard to come by. They are a treasure and should never be taken for granted.

And as we celebrated, the absence of several relatives was felt. But, for me it was the absence of my mother’s brother, Larry, that was felt most deeply. He has gone on to be with the Lord and life on earth–at least for this family–will never be the same. He is still so sorely missed. I know that all people are missed, but Larry was special. He was one of those uncles that you knew cared about you. That you could go to if you ever needed anything. And he made us laugh–oh, how he made us laugh. I know that life will never be the same without him.

I was also filled with such thankfulness as I thought about God’s sovereignty in putting me in this particular family as a tiny baby. Why me? Why was I so blessed to be put there? I have no answer for that. But I do have a very grateful heart.

And so this weekend was filled with emotion for me– the hope of the future and looking back to the past. It was a lot to take in. To say the least.

But I guess if there is any lesson to be had here, I would leave you with something my dad said when he shared a few words yesterday.  He said that before any children joined the family, he and mom had talked about the fact that nothing would ever be more important to them than that their children would come to know the Lord. That would always be the priority. My parents were not perfect, but that was always the priority. They held to their word.

They now have a son who is a preacher (and an amazing one at that!) and a daughter who writes about biblical principles. But their decision has also affected the lives of their grandchildren. For we, their children, have also made that the priority with our own children. And it is our prayer that our children will do the same.

If you have young children– or even if your kids are older– I encourage you to make the same priority in raising your kids. Nothing is more important. No sports trophies or academic accolades compare. No stage or glory or awards matter more than this one thing–that our kids love and serve Jesus.

Weaknesses and unkind words and unloving actions have abounded in my families. They were part of my life growing up and they are part of my life now. But if we keep the Lord our priority, he is so faithful. He is so faithful. He fills in the gaps of our weaknesses and honors our commitment to Him. It is truly hard to explain the joy and peace that fills a heart that lives for Him. Life isn’t perfect and there are hard times. But, through it all, it is well with my soul.

I know so many of you have experienced the same faithfulness. You have experienced God’s great love and grace for you. We don’t base our Christian walk on that experience (as is so common today) but, the experiences confirm what we know to be true from scripture. They confirm the promises we read in God’s Word. I leave you with just one of those promises–

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! (Psalm 34:8)

 

Sex is Not a Four-Letter Word

Song of Solomon

Disclaimer: This post is really for my fellow Christian women. Men will probably not get this post, although it may help them to understand their wives a bit if they take the time to read it.

Sex Trafficking/Slavery.

Transgender/Trans-sexual.

Sexual Abuse and Molestation.

Pornography.

Affairs.

Prostitution.

The Gay Agenda.

If we have been saved by the blood of Christ, we view the above words as sinful or evil. Some of the words are viewed as evil even by the world. This is because God’s Word (and our consciences) inform us that all of the above are sexual behaviors that lie outside of God’s perfect will for sexuality. All are warped and broken ways that man has tainted sexuality. It would appear that Satan has given some of his greatest effort to destroying sex as God designed it.

So it’s Thursday, the day that I generally write about what we are currently reading in our Bible Challenge. I almost chickened out and was seriously considering ignoring the Song of Solomon completely. It was very tempting. I don’t even really “get” that book (comparing love to  clusters of henna blossoms and teeth to recently shorn sheep isn’t my style!) But there it was–this book that talks about verdant beds and breasts like towers. In the Bible. Our guide book for life has a whole book about the pure and holy beauty of physical intimacy between a husband and a wife.

Many of us are very uncomfortable even mentioning the word “sex”.  Satan has corrupted and perverted it almost beyond recognition. Because of this, it has destroyed countless lives and families. If we grew up in a Christian home, this word may have been ignored completely. Many families just pretend that it doesn’t exist at all. And, even worse yet, I have heard of some women who were told by their mothers or other older women that sex is just a duty and nothing more, something to be endured.

Sex is a little tricky for Christians, isn’t it? It’s one of the only things I know of that is a sin in one set of circumstances (sex between two unmarried people ) and beautiful and glorious in a different set of circumstances (sex between two married people).

While I don’t really understand every verse of Song of Solomon, I do take away from reading this book that God considers sex between two married people to be something pure and holy and wonderful.

As women, in particular, I think we have to be careful not to mix the feelings we have about our pasts (sexual sin or abuse) with our married sex life now. This can be difficult and there is no easy way to heal from something like this. But women can heal from this. I have heard the testimonies of several women who have struggled through the guilt of their pasts. There is hope!

I also believe that we have to be so careful not to let the debauchery of prime-time TV or the perverted remarks and jokes we hear in a steady stream all around us to taint our view of sex the way God created it to be. We have become a weirdly over-sexed nation– as if that is the only thing that matters in a relationship. And most of us are either laughing and going along with the world’s perversions of sex or we are putting our heads into the sand and pretending it’s not happening.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking: What is she talking about? My view of sex is perfectly healthy.

If that’s the case, I am so happy for you.

But I believe that it’s very likely that there are many, many Christian women who have been broken or taught lies about this word and they view sex as something to be endured or even avoided.

I am certainly no sex therapist but I can tell you one thing with absolute certainty: We will never be able to fully enjoy sex with our spouse until our view of sex is a biblical one.

Sex is not a dirty word. Instead, it is something that has been destroyed and broken almost irreparably by Satan and the world. It’s time for Christians to declare the truth about sex. We need to stop being so embarrassed about something that God created as a special gift for husbands and wives. The shame only comes when we step outside God’s design. There is no shame to be found in sex between a man and his wife. Yes, it should be a private thing, but it’s not shameful.

So that’s what I learned this week! I have a feeling next week’s post may seem a little boring compared to this one– if there even is a Thursday post next week since our son’s wedding is next Saturday! Wow, that came fast!

Have a great day. Hope I didn’t make you blush. :)

The Many Faces of Pride

PRIDE

I’ve had a really rough week. You don’t need details, but suffice it to say that I came face to face with my loathsome, prideful self yet once again.

Does that ever happen to you? Or am I the only one? You think you are doing pretty well in this Christianity thing and then something happens that you didn’t see coming or someone doesn’t meet your expectations and you react. And that’s when you realize that you still have so far to go. While it can be really painful, I am so thankful for these times, for they remind me of why I need a Savior so incredibly much and they help me to grow more like Christ.

Pride is an insidious, deadly sin. It gobbles up our peace and joy so quickly. It destroys most everything in its wake. Or, at the very least, keeps any relationship from being the best it could be.

Humility is the opposite of pride. Christ was humble, even to death on a cross, and humility is what He requires of us. First and foremost, humility is necessary for us to understand our need for a Savior. But, after our initial conversion, it is also so key in staying in a right relationship with God. It is absolutely critical for healthy family relationships. Humility helps us to be a better co-worker, a better child, a better spouse, a better parent. We are happier when we are humble. We bless others when we are humble. We experience much greater peace when we are humble.

When we think of pride, we often think of the kind that David exhibited in I Chronicles 21 (and 2 Samuel 24). David took a census. This was apparently an act of pride that cost him (and the whole nation of Israel) dearly. We can’t know for sure, but according to my Bible study notes, David’s act of taking this census could have angered God for a number of reasons. Perhaps because David was trying to gratify his pride in the great strength of his army and military power. Or he was putting more trust in his forces than in his God. Maybe this was showing that he was taking credit for the many victories of Israel. Whatever his reason, we know that God was angry, as we read in the passage.

And our pride often looks like David’s in our own day-to-day living. We take credit for something; we want the glory; we draw attention to our accomplishments and awards and accolades.

But let’s just say that we don’t really struggle with this type of thing. Maybe we hate attention and would never boast about ourselves. We would never count our successes and victories and put them out there for all the world to see. Is there still the possibility that pride could still be an issue for us, if boasting and taking censuses isn’t our style?

Of course, the answer to this is a resounding YES.

So what are some ways that pride hides out in the dark corners of our minds and hearts? I have been really thinking about this topic of humility this week. Knowing that in order for my relationships to work right, I need to be humble. In searching some of my favorite authors on this topic, I came across a $2.99 Kindle book called Sermons on Humility by Charles Spurgeon. I have not finished it, but in the first few pages he shares several different ways pride exhibits itself in even the most “humble” of us. I will follow each one with a few practical, modern-day examples —

There is the pride of the heretic, who will utter false doctrines, because he thinks his own judgment to be better than the word of God, never content to sit like a child to believe what he is told, he is a disputant but not a disciple. He will insist upon it that his own reason is to be the well-spring of his own beliefs, and he will receive nothing beyond his own reach.

This is immediately what I think of when I think of the Christians who claim that homosexuality isn’t a sin, that unity is more important than truth, or that the world evolved. They have the pride of the heretic–relying on their own intellect or on the intellect of other men instead of on the Word of God. The other person that comes to mind is the one who says there are many ways to heaven or that there is no hell. They, too, are holding their own thinking in higher merit than the Word of God.

There is next the pride of the Papist, who attaches merit to his own works, and hopes to will heaven as the reward of his own doings.

While they may not brag or boast about this, many think they are good people, quietly assuming that their good deeds outweigh their bad ones and this will be what gets them into heaven. Even many, many Christians (or shall I say people who identify with the religion of Christianity) believe they are going to heaven based on their own merit. This is pride. This is the kind that keeps our eyes blinded to our need for a Savior.

Next there is the pride of the curious. The man who is not content with simplicities, but must pry into mysteries. He would if he could climb to the Eternal Throne, and read between those folded leaves and break the seven seals of the mysterious book of destiny. You know well our apostle has many things in his writings which are hard to be understood, yet he uttered them because of the Spirit, and you never meet with any attempt in the apostle’s writing as you do in the preaching of some ministers, as you do in the conversation of some professors, to reconcile predestination with free will. He was quite content to preach to men as free agents, and exhort them to repent, quite willing to speak of God as working in us to will and do of his good pleasure, while we also work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Paul was never curious to find out where the lines of truth met, he was perfectly content to take his doctrine from his Master’s spirit, and leave the old wives fables and endless genealogies and disputings, and questionings, to those who had no better guests to entertain.

I included this whole section here because it goes so very well with my post from Monday. I agree with Spurgeon whole-heartedly– it is prideful to think we have to understand the things we can’t understand. Yes, the ungodly will call you stupid and unintellectual when you take this approach (mostly because of their own personal pride). They don’t know God the way we do if we are saved. They don’t understand that submitting to His sovereignty is an incredible blessing. That some questions can go unanswered because the ones that really matter have already been answered. They can’t get it. Their eyes can’t see.

Again, there is the pride of the persecutor; the man who is not content with his own notions, but would hunt to death another, the pride which suggests that I am infallible, and that if any man should differ from me, the stake and the rack would be the due deserts of so great a sin, against so great a person as myself.

We may not want to see someone physically harmed when they don’t agree with us, but how many broken families and split churches fall under this type of pride? Millions? Trillions? This is perhaps the most tempting one for “godly Christians”. We think we are right. We believe that our opinion is best. We believe we are infallible. But if it’s not within the pages of scripture, is it actually something worth a broken relationship?

Is any special piece of furniture or bank account worth the fracturing of a family upon a parents’ death?

Is any decision of our adult children worth the tense and strained relationship that comes when we keep insisting they are doing wrong thing or making the wrong choice?

Is any opinion of mine worth holding on to if it’s causing stress and constant argument in my marriage?

Is my hurt pride over what I heard that someone said about me worth a broken friendship?

NO, a thousand times NO. The answer to all of these questions is NO.

And so, so many of us fall prey to this deadly sin, leaving a trail of broken hearts and strained relationships. I don’t want to do this. I want my marriage more than I want to be right. I want a right relationship with my kids more than I want to be right. I want to be a good testimony more than I want to be right.

Keep in mind I am not talking about biblical truth here. Of course, we have to stand strong and fight for the truth held within the pages of scripture. I might add here that even these biblical debates can and should only be done with great gentleness and kindness. But most of us are not arguing over biblical doctrine (a few more of us should be! We seem to not find that important, while inane, silly things get us so riled up!), instead, we are debating and arguing over issues which have no biblical mandate. No right or wrong. I am talking about the silly, stupid stuff we won’t bend on. The stuff that isn’t worth it.

Life is hard. Relationships take work. And no relationship works well without at least one party practicing humility. Joy and peace elude us without humility. Unanswerable questions haunt us without it.

And so we start with us. Today. The only place we can start. And we take our desire to be right, our yearning for glory, and our prideful thoughts about how good we are and hand them all to the Lord, asking Him to humble us and to become more like Him.

Often crying and screaming inside our heads as we endure the emotional pain of the process.

 

 

Spurgeon, Charles (2014-09-28). Twelve Sermons on Humility; Titus Books. Kindle Edition.

 

The Win (and what to do until then)

the win

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

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

And we are left with one conclusion–

Winning is glorious and losing is not.

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

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

Our country

Our churches

Our freedom

The hearts of our kids

Our marriages

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

And never forget– we win!