Thoughts on Good Friday

dark_and_dim

Why do we call this day Good Friday and the post-Thanksgiving shopping day Black Friday? It seems we would call a good thing, dark. And a bad thing, good. Perhaps we should reverse the titles. The shopping day could be called Good Friday and the day Christ died could be called Black Friday.

When God created the earth, there was darkness first, then light (Gen. 1). So it is with Easter. The history of Good Friday begins with the dark reality that you and I crucified Jesus, but then the light is shown in the reality that He willingly, lovingly stayed put on the cross, didn’t stay put in the grave, and rose again to conquer death. He did not waver in His resolve to save, even though with His power and might, He (sing it with me now) could have called ten thousand angels. So why did He do it? Because He’s good, and He showed His goodness by voluntarily enduring a type of temptation that we will never have to endure – the temptation to NOT bear the monstrous weight of the world’s sins.

Although it happened through horrific circumstances, ultimately, His death was good. It was tragic, but necessary and the truth of it should stun us in two ways: that He would do such a thing for us, and … that He would do such a thing for us!! Same wordage, different emotions. Horrified and happy – that’s what we should be on this day that is both dark and good, beautiful and terrible. Horrified at the gruesome, blood spilling that had to take place to redeem us, and happy that He offered His blood freely, and refused to be rescued by an army of angels.

The more I think about it, the more I realize we have it right. The famous shopping day should remain Black Friday, and today should remain Good Friday. It’s possible I am biased, as I do not relish shopping. But I know a good deal when see one, and overall, Good Friday is a good deal!

Thoughts on Easter

I’m a little leery of writing publicly around this time of year. Some of my worst childhood memories took place the night before Easter and in my struggles with the past, I don’t want to slip and accidentally convey any sort of negativity or (God forbid) heresy when speaking about something as precious as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

So I stay quiet. Except obviously I don’t since I’m here “talking” and you’re here listening.

What takes place is comparable to doing laundry with a toddler, which typically looks like this: I work for quite some time folding discombobulated articles of clothing into neat, perfectamundo piles, and then little hands get thrown into the process and in seconds, said piles are back to being discombobulated. Likewise, throughout the year, I work hard at being spiritually neat and tidy and then POOF! Peeps, everywhere. The Cadbury bunny laying chocolate eggs on TV. Warm weather. Easter songs playing on the radio. All of these things get thrown into my daily life, my attention gets diverted to long ago, and every. single. year, I wind up discombobulated. First in my emotions, then my thoughts, and if I’m not careful, my actions.

So – focus with me for a minute. Maybe you have painful memories, too. Maybe they don’t center around the night before Resurrection Sunday, but alas, bad memories linger from another time frame, and you know what it is to have to fight at staying level headed.

Congratulations. You’re normal. But what’s the solution?

Well, this year, I am finding it helpful to make a conscious decision to hop off the emotional merry-go-round and focus on why. Not on the whys of my past, but the why of His past. And the way I do that is to challenge myself regularly to think carefully about why did Christ died.

In my normal Bible reading, I recently came across 2 Corinthians 5:15. It says, “And He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them, and rose again.”
There are other reasons He died, of course. But the reason Paul mentions in verse 15 helps me in my pre-Easter tendency to be tossed into an emotional tizzy. It prompts me to get on with life ~ to not focus on my past, but instead focus on the fact that because He lives, I can do an about face and face yesterday, today, tomorrow, and every pre-Easter until I die. I don’t have to wallow in the past like a pig wallows in mud and slop. Nor do I have to let the past actions of others drag me down and cause me to sink into an unforgiving spirit, because that wouldn’t be “living for Him who died for me and rose again.”

Am I successful? Many times, yes. Do I sometimes take a Peep by the neck and squish it’s squishiness between my fingers because it’s the only thing I can legally attempt to murder? Eeeehhhh … maybe. When I’m having a slight setback. But my goal is to let the emotional upset prompt me to look at my Savior’s past instead of my own.

Christ didn’t die so I could live in spiritual and emotional misery. He died to make me more than a conqueror. That’s not to say my laundry piles will always be neat and tidy or that nobody will ever hurt me again. Life just isn’t perfect like that. But it does mean that by His grace, I can respond to any discombobulated or painful circumstance with a godly frame of mind and heart.

Why? Because He lives!

How to Hide in Christ

Family14

As an introvert, I often say I can be anywhere for any period of time, as long as I have a little corner to retreat to periodically to regroup, calm down, and focus my thoughts. But life doesn’t always allow such luxuries.

When Corrie ten Boom found her and her loved ones prisoners in a concentration camp, they weren’t even allowed to shower in private (sometimes not at all), and they certainly weren’t allowed any peace, quiet, puffy pillows, warm blankets, cups of tea, or Bibles.

Somehow, Corrie learned to hide in Christ when everything around her was harsh, havoc, and hellish. Without talking to her personally, I can’t say for certain how she managed to make Christ her hiding place when her world was turned topsy-turvy and brutally uncomfortable. But if I had to guess, I would say that in order to hide in Christ, she first learned to hide Christ’s words in her heart.

Maybe that’s the very definition of hiding in Christ: branding His Word deeply onto our hearts, so when havoc finds us, we have what what we need in a place that no man can touch or destroy.

I’m no Corrie. I’ve never experienced unjust imprisonment for loving and protecting innocent Jews. But in the last year, I’ve known to some degree what it is to live topsy-turvy and out of my comfort zone. And either I am getting old and my memory is failing, or I have simply not hidden God’s Word in my heart sufficiently. Too often, words of Christ slip my mind, and I find myself googling “Psalm for anger” or “verses on anxiety” or “is it wrong for a Pastor’s wife to de-stress by smoking cigarettes?” (Just kidding)

I read once that William Wilberforce had a habit of taking long walks while reciting Psalm 119. I had never studied the passage extensively (it’s so long and I am so not patient). But in the midst of one of my anxious fits a few months ago, I turned there to try and decipher why Wilberforce was so enthralled with the longest chapter in the Bible.

At first, it seemed the Psalmist was a broken record. And haughty.

Oh how I love thy law.

With my whole heart I have sought you.

I cling to Your testimonies.

I have chosen the way of truth.

Your word have I hidden in my heart.

I will not forget Thy word.

By verse 57, I was getting weary of the Psalmist’s self-acclaimed maturity. On and on he went, seemingly tooting his horn and bragging about his impeccable ability to love God’s Word at all times, at all costs. Finally, I came to the last verse, where he suddenly spins around and says (in essence), “Au contraire!”

I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
Seek Your servant.
For I do not forget Your commandments.

For 175 verses, I misunderstood. I pegged the writer as one who religiously pats himself on the back. But it turns out, he was penning a long-winded post-it note ~ a marathon reminder to stay focused, to keep choosing right and to love God’s law over any man-made law, because his bent was to wander like a small-brained, flighty sheep.

No wonder Wilberforce chose Psalm 119. His opposition was fierce. He was not well liked by anyone who disapproved of his mission to abolish the slave trade, and that was a good many people. His battle was long, arduous, and accompanied by a painful, energy-sucking physical condition. With that lot in life, who wouldn’t need a little self-convincing to stay on track?

And no wonder Corrie fared as well as she did in prison. Statute after statute and law after law was hidden in her heart, and as a result, when the going got tough, she remained unbroken.

So that’s the secret. If we want to hide in Christ, we must hide Christ in us. If we want to remain unbroken, we must have broken and contrite hearts that are set on knowing His Word better than the backs of our hands.

Andrew4

Maybe you are an extrovert and the idea of hiding to regroup is foreign and unappealing. You need people. Action. Lights. Lots of fanfare all the time time time. Your temptation is to never hide because hiding is boring and every time you try, you end up snoring like a sinus plugged rhino. But I would say that whether the reader is outgoing or hermitic, the need for a hiding place exists. Even Jesus hid. He climbed mountains to get away from the cares and parties of life, to quote Scripture, to pray and recommit to the Father.

How do we think heroes of the faith become heroic? Certainly not by following their nature, but by refusing to cater to their nature.

So whatever your bent, hide.

Hide His Word in the deepest crevices of your hearts when times are swell. Because when the topsy-turvy times arrive (and they will), you will be like a tree planted by the waters, rather than the leaf that withers or the chaff that scatters. You will be a Corrie. A Wilberforce. A lost sheep, yes. But also found. Hidden in the hallow of His hand, where no harm can follow.

Following in the Sandy Footsteps of 21 Martyrs

Feet4

The morning I saw the photos of 21 men in orange jumpsuits being escorted to their own beheadings, many questions popped into my head:

Why? 

What kind of evil takes place in the hearts of people who pride themselves on becoming gruesome, murderous exhibitionists?

What can we do to stop them?

But the biggest questions that get conjured up when I see martyrdom are more personal:

If I was given suit #22, would I follow suit #21, #20, 19, 18 … scared spitless, heart pounding in my chest, but joyful because the crown of life was so near I could almost touch it? Would I consider myself “blessed” because I was being persecuted for righteousness sake? Or would I cower to a bigger coward and say there was no need to jump into any orange garb because I don’t associate with anyone by the name of Jesus Christ?

Would I become a traitor, even for a moment, to try and save my own flesh?

I don’t want to be a Peter. I don’t want to deny Christ once, twice, or thrice. I want to have guts. Holy courage. Wild, loyal-unto-death faith. But when I see the photos of the 21 Christians? I don’t have one drop of desire to follow in their sandy footsteps.

Lord, I’m a big fat chicken who doesn’t want to die for You.

Poor Peter. Maybe he gets a bad rap. Because although he denied Christ multiple times in his lifetime, ultimately, when it came down to proving his faith, he reportedly proved it well, in the same manner that Christ gave Himself for us – hanging on a cross, only (at his request) head down, because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Christ.

If that’s not Christian character, I don’t know what is. And his ultimate decision gives me hope that throughout the course of my life, though I may deny Christ singly, doubly, or triply, perhaps someday, I too could die for Him near the shores of Tripoli.

Not this day. Because this day, God has called me to different things. To lay down my life down in small ways. Not in an orange jumpsuit. Not at the hands of an evil, sword-bearer. But at the kitchen sink. At the computer. Over the laundry basket. Over coffee with a hurting friend. In my husband’s embrace at the end of a long, tiring day.

When I ponder whether the day may come when I am called to follow in the footsteps of 21 Christians who one day left this world in the most valiant and triumphant way possible, I am forced to rest in this one truth:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)

Not all things I want and aspire to do, but all things He’s called me to do. Today, I’m not called to bear the cross of gruesome, unjust decapitation. But if that changes, God will empower.

Whatever the cause of death, He does not give dying grace until the time to die is at hand. And just as I find His grace sufficient in smaller, every day ways of dying, I will find His grace sufficient when/if I’m called on to die once and for all, for His name’s sake.

So, instead of worrying my safe little head about my cowardice heart, I’ll pray.

Lord Jesus, I believe. Help my unbelief. I confess I don’t posses the faith, desire, or strength to die for You. And yet, You haven’t asked me to. So I release myself from the burden of my own martyrdom. Help me to continue dying to self in small ways, so that if the day comes that You call me to die to myself in the biggest way, I will be able to answer affirmatively – with a resounding yes, in complete trust and submission, eager to leave this world and be welcomed into Your unconditionally loving arms. ~Amen

Meanwhile, Back at the Farmhouse

Fence

Tomorrow, I will officially move back into the farmhouse. Life there will still be like camping out for me, as I am the designated fire starter/maintainer (no complaints there, I love my wood stove!), and am still unable to touch the well water (yay, no dishes! boo, no showers!). But being there full time makes it much easier to complete the list of what needs to be done before we put it on the market. It also allows the sweet couple I’ve been staying with to get their nursery finished for their little one, who is due to come into the world soon-ish.

I will be forever indebted to that sweet couple for allowing me to come and recuperate in their home. The first five weeks I was there, I did nothing but sleep. They probably wondered at times if I was lying in “my” room, dead and decaying in their beautiful condo. Ha! But the sleep, coupled with Physical Therapy and nutritional injections have served to get me back on my feet a bit, and I feel compelled (err, panicked) to get back to work.

Am I worried I will go backward health wise, now that I’m back? If I’m honest, yes. I am already not feeling as well (I’ve been spending most of my time there lately), especially where my pain levels are concerned. It could be that I’m pushing my body too far with all the work. It could be environmental. I think it’s both. But the goal is to just hustle our bustles and get the work done so we can be out. In the meantime, there’s another sweet couple who has volunteered to let me shower at their place and even stay the night as needed. So, if I get too worn out or sick, I can retreat to their place for a breather. And I mean that literally, as the farmhouse air can get a little … uhm … interesting.

Our goal remains to have it on the market by March 1st. A death in the family has likely postponed that date. But, as has been the norm since we moved here … we simply continue to do what we know to do next, and we will get to a selling point whenever the time is right according to divine providence. “Doing what’s next” usually involves painting, sorting, hacking and burning weeds, and fixing everything that goes wrong in the midst of it. The norm here is two steps forward, and thirteen back. We fix something, and another something goes wrong. It’s like we are living in this crazy phenomenon where we’ve been put here to learn how to deal with ongoing, exhausting frustration (don’t ask me how that’s going). I’ve never been able to figure the phenomenon out, but one day, I’ll likely write an e-book about it. I have no idea why anyone would pay to read about a year of not so pleasant surprises and my subsequent nomadic living, but I promise to make it humorous and serious and spiritual and all things … Brenda, I guess. (I’m not a very good sales lady.)

But first … a move. And second … the completion of my first book. Lord willing, on both accounts.

So that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it. At least for today.

Now carry on, readers. Carry on with your normal lives that I unashamedly envy.

Christian Liberty and Fifty Shades of Grey

FoggyDay1

 

I have hesitated to say anything about the book and upcoming movie entitled Fifty Shades of Grey. There’s a plethora of articles out there written by both secular and Christian authors, and in some way, that makes me think nothing else needs to be said.

I’ve also figured that I would merely be preaching to the choir, as that seems to be my general audience.

Surely everyone in my church and my friends inside and outside the church are spiritually savvy enough to make a good decision about Fifty Shades.

That’s been my thought. And while I hope my thought is correct, it’s also come to my attention that several Christian ladies whom I know personally (outside of church) have already read the book.

In light of that, I’ve decided to bring out a few points and a handful of testimonials – just in case anyone is still on the fence about whether to read the book or watch the movie and is searching for direction.

So here goes.

1. Try not to get bogged down in what man has to say, but what God has to say. True, there are many good conversations going on about this work of “art”, but that has the potential to get confusing. That’s why I encourage you to first and foremost, search what the Bible says about this genre – because it will keep your decision pretty simple. Ephesians 5 is a great place to start. If you read it carefully, in a spirit of submission to the Lord, you’ll find that maybe things aren’t so “grey” after all.

The second passage I suggest reading is The Song of Solomon. Many couples are claiming the book is spicing up their sex life, and therefore, the movie can only serve to make it spicier. If you need that as a couple, the Bible has plenty of advice in the Song of Solomon. If you feel SOS can be too cryptic, well … you’re not alone. Thankfully, we live in an age of information, and there are plenty of SOS studies to help you de-code the message. Remember, there’s no shame in needing help. The shame comes when we try and find help in ways that will harm rather than help us.

2. This is not an issue of Christian liberty. I am all for Christians living in the liberty that is theirs in Christ when trying to determine what they watch, what their children watch, what music they listen to, if they can (bleh!) eat haggis or not, whether they homeschool, etcetera. But some things that seem to fall under the category of “liberty” are, in fact, strictly prohibited in Scripture. Not because God is a party pooper, but because they are guaranteed to make you stumble, and God prefers His children remain upright and healthy. So please consider that truth as you read through Ephesians 5. Again, I think you’ll find it sheds light on the so called grey areas.

I will close with a few quotes (used with permission) from women I know personally who have read the book. The reasons they chose to read the book differ. Some read because they felt Christians should keep up with secular issues. Some just wanted to. One read because she was dared by a non-Christian friend who thought her “Baptist mind couldn’t take it.”

Here are the various reactions to the book:

It (the book) is a ploy. It takes women out of their reality and into a dream world that their husbands and families cannot compete with.

It was too much. I had to take a break in between readings. (Meaning, the content was so brutal and disturbing, she could only read in small spurts.)

Nobody lives like that. That may be the allure. It’s Satan’s tool to create the dissatisfaction.

I would rather just be loved and respected. (Rather than dominated, bound, and abused both physically and emotionally, which the book depicts as highly desirable.)

It’s a fantasy life that no woman would want…and yet they get all googly at the thought.

And lastly, I was in on a conversation that took place in mixed company. A Christian lady was asked what she was currently reading by a non-suspecting male. Referring to Fifty Shades, she somewhat blushingly replied, “Just some really trashy, pornographic novel.”

Christians have many liberties, and that includes the liberty to sin, albeit not habitually, lest we be chastened. We can choose to not think on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy, but as with any sin, though there may be pleasure for a season, ultimately, there will be consequences.

If it’s liberty we are looking to exercise, then let’s exercise it in the Spirit. Because as 2 Corinthians 3:17 says … that’s where true liberty is found. Not in pornographic material meant to dissatisfy us in our marriages and singleness, and expose us to crude, immoral, abusive works of darkness.

From what I’ve gathered, Fifty Shades and the Spirit of the Lord don’t mesh. Where the Spirit of the Lord is (in the hearts of Christian women), the general consensus seems to be that Fifty Shades is, at best, literary garbage.

I Don’t Know Everything – And Neither Do You

Quonset

Most of what I write publicly is simply me talking to myself, hashing out Biblical truth to get my mind straight – then sharing it with you. And while I could write about that for three lifetimes, the fact is, the Bible doesn’t talk about a lot of things.

And that means that I don’t know a lot of things.

I don’t know why the flu shot was only fifty percent effective this year.

I don’t know what causes autism (and frankly, nobody does).

I don’t know what goes through the head of someone who kills a fellow Marine, American sniper, hero, and friend who is trying his best to help said killer succeed in post-war life.

I don’t know if you should vaccinate your children (although I have an opinion).

I don’t know why a short hand wash under the well water to my house makes me sick.

I don’t know why ISIS has been allowed to get away with so much satanic, inhumane crap before someone started bombing their brains out.

I don’t know who the next president will be, nor will I ever understand why on earth America was stupid enough to elect our current president not once, but twice.

I don’t know if all those HONY’s (Humans Of New York) are telling the truth. But I know some of them are pretty blunt about their lots in life.

I don’t know why our dream of living in the country has turned into a nightmare.

I don’t know if my body will ever be healed this side of Heaven.

And as for those last two “I don’t knows”, I wish people would quit asking “why?”

Because I don’t have answers.

I have many answers to many questions, because I have God’s Word. But where He is silent, I am silent.

I’m weary of this world, of myself, asking why. We are like the four year old who thinks it’s funny to ask the parent “why” about every. single. thing.

But it’s not funny. It’s annoying.

Maybe we don’t need to know why, but Who.

I get it. If we knew why, then maybe we could be healthier, wiser, richer. No harm in bettering the world in which we live. This is truth. But there IS harm in fighting about all the things we don’t know enough about (measles, anyone?), blame shifting, and insisting on answers.

It’s okay to not know everything.

If we had answers to everything, there would be no need for faith.

Perhaps that’s why we are so desperate for an answer to our plight – or our neighbor’s plight. Because if we can figure it all out, then voila! – no need to trust in anyone but ourselves.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked about my health (and now my home) with an underlying tone of “Sooooo … ya got that figured out yet?”

When I was 5 months pregnant with Jessie, and Ashlee was 20 months old, a man at church approached me, looked at my swelling belly, then at Ashlee, then back to my belly, and said, “Don’t you know what causes that by now?”

And then I slapped him in the chops. With my Bible. And told him I probably knew a lot more about what causes “it” than he did.

I’m joshing.

But I wanted to. Because of course I knew what caused pregnancy. I, however, did not know what caused pregnancy while using birth control. And so … I took my little baby bump to mean that God wanted another little person on this earth and He was entrusting me with her care. Thankyouverymuch.

Can I not look at my broken down farmhouse this way? My lack of health? My Mother’s Parkinson’s? My brother’s divorce from a girl who claimed to be Christian but acted the compete opposite starting two minutes after “I do”? My country’s slow but steady moral decline?

I’m not saying don’t fight for answers when there’s fighting to be done. But I am saying when you’ve searched high and low and in every crevice and there are no reasonable explanations, accept.

Elisabeth Elliot says that it’s in the acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself. She’s probably right, and I’m working on it, but I can’t say I’m there every second of the day yet. Some days, all I know for sure is my name. My faith is so small, I’m not certain God is simultaneously sovereign and loving, like I have written about so adamantly, as though it is Gospel truth.

It is Gospel truth.

Other days, I am so faith-filled I nearly explode with the excitement of it all.

Hello, Reader. Nice to meet you. My name is Willy Nilly.

Fortunately, what is true does not depend on what I feel. Or what you feel about me. Or what some seem to be put out about – that I don’t have all my circumstantial duckies in a neat little row.

Truth is truth. Never changing. Always there. Always waiting for me to come around and see things it’s way. His way.

And I guess I’m writing today because I’m exhausted in every way and I just want to say this: I don’t know everything, and neither do you. And that’s okay.

I will go on writing what I do know. But when you ask me whether I’ve got that pesky farmhouse figured out yet, or why I’m still, after lo these fifteen years, unable to eat anything more than freaking chicken or yogurt, or any number of other trivial, mysterious things going on in my life and the world, I will offer you one thing:

A shoulder shrug.

I cannot reveal what is hidden.

Your job, then, is to refrain from imitating those annoying, self righteous friends of Job.

I don’t need your advice or opinion so much as I need your love. And you don’t need to have answers to silly questions like, “So what have you learned from this situation? Why do you think God is allowing this?”

Truth is, I don’t always know. Because sometimes, it’s years from when a painful experience happens that a lesson is learned. What I am gleaning from my pain shouldn’t be the first thing you ask. Job had no idea why he was wiped clean of his possessions and family, and it was not helpful to be called upon to come up with answers, lickedysplit.

I had open heart surgery when I was 17. For seven years, I struggled with debilitating fatigue, fainting, and fast, irregular heartbeats. So fast and irregular that they told my Mom if they didn’t get it under control, I would flow in the footsteps of the kids she saw in the news every so often who suddenly dropped dead on the basketball court.

To this day, I don’t know of a great reason for that trial. It happened. I suffered. I had surgery and got better and here I am with an uber cool, foot long scar, and a not so cool shorter scar and pacemaker bump below my clavicle.

What if, sometimes, we go through things not because we are being punished or “need more sanctifyin’!”, but because God said so, He has a plan, and we are simply called to be faithful throughout that plan?

I suppose that is a form of sanctification in and of itself … learning to trust deeper. To persevere.

Looking back, I can say that during the years I had heart problems, I learned to trust deeper as far as my salvation is concerned, because there’s just something about allowing another fallible human being to stop your heart, saw open your chest, freeze your AV node, and send you into complete heart block that makes you realize your mortality. But the point is: I don’t recall much else coming from that trial. And I guess I’m suggesting that sometimes, we go through things for the benefit of others.

I’m certain my Mom feels differently about my heart surgery, and she would say she learned a ton from raising a daughter whom she was not sure would live past 12.

So, indirectly or directly, I know there’s always a reason.

But …

Please. Don’t ask me to explain said reason. I don’t know the answers for why I go through what I do or why the headlines read as they do. The reasons are not listed. There is no chapter. No verse.

All I know is what should be my heart response to the trial. So if you ask me anything, ask me if I’ve been able to respond Biblically. Ask me if you can pray. How to pray. What to pray.

And then pray.

But don’t ask me why. Because I don’t know. And because I may smack you upside the head with my Bible.

What It Really Means To Be Blessed

I don’t know what pops into your head when you hear the word “blessed.” I know when the subject is brought up in either Christian or secular circles, many folks rattle off lists that center around possessions, health, wealth, social status, job status, friends and family.

Fair enough. But where does that leave those who are ill and live in poverty, obscurity, and solidarity? Are they not blessed? Is there any way for them to become blessed?

Those who qualify themselves as blessed because of certain possessions or statuses may be tempted to think that since they are doing so well, and others are not, they must be doing something right and others must be doing something wrong and well … sufferers probably deserve their trials.

Jesus puts an end to that thinking in Matthew 5. He says, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (vs. 3-4) Then He goes on to list meekness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, mercy, pureness in spirit, and the peacemaking, as the characteristics of those who are blessed. Lastly, He states one physical circumstance as a qualifier for being blessed:

Persecution. 

*crickets*

*and more crickets*

I don’t see health, wealth, stuff, friends, family, or job status on the list. As is the norm, what Jesus values is vastly different than what the world values. Jesus focuses on the heart, whereas the world focuses on the comforts and pleasures of this world. That’s not to pooh pooh the comforts and pleasures of the world. God gave us all things richly to enjoy, within reason. It’s just to say that the amount of goodies one is able to possess or partake of is not what qualifies one as “blessed.”

Matters of the heart always trump matters of physical, social, and familial statuses. In other words, what goes on around us is important, but what’s most important is what takes place in the crevices of our hearts and minds. How are we responding to whatever has been alloted to us in this world? If we are poor, do we respond in anger or humility? If we have lost a loved one, do we exhibit joy or despair? If we are being persecuted, are we responding in faithfulness, even to death? If we are a writer and know full well we may live seven and a half decades in poverty and total obscurity, are we responding in obedience to our calling, with gladness, or are we bent on striving for our own glory? (That last example may have gotten a tad personal.)

Speaking of personal, many of you know that we are, in a sense, losing our home. We bought it almost a year ago, exactly, and due to my health and frankly, the health of the house, we have to sell. More than that, in order to keep what health I still posses, I’ve been forced to move out long before it would be prudent to prop a For Sale sign in the front yard. I have, in many ways, felt poor over the last year. And while I can’t say I’ve consistently responded as a blessed person, as Biblically defined in Matthew, the overall, simple, childlike conclusion I’ve come to is this:

Though I feel put out, grumpy, sick, and exhausted, I still have to be nice. Foxes have their holes and the birds of the air have their nests while my favorite place to lay my head has been taken from me. But I am still called to follow Jesus. Here. Now. Before home and health are restored. In the midst of suffering. Thankfully, I have everything I need to keep following, because Christ empowers me and no circumstance can ever take Him away. I am, and will always be, well equipped to live out my calling. And ironically, living out that calling is where I find blessedness.

Being blessed in the purest sense necessarily includes pursuing good things and partaking. Not of earthly stuff and statuses, but of Christ-likeness and the sufferings of Christ.

That’s enough brutal truth to chew on for one day. I think even the crickets have been silenced.

A Straightforward Post on Parenting

But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand. ~Isaiah 64:8

Shaun has confessed many a time that when he first started parenting, he thought our kids were little lumps of clay that, with a bit of work from his own hand, could be molded into perfect little … well, whatever he wanted them to be. It’s easy to read that verse in Isaiah and make the correlation that since we have a Heavenly Father who molds us into His image, we are to follow suit and incessantly squish, squish, squish our own children into the ideal mold.

Our ideal mold.

And why not? We are bigger. Stronger. Alpha. So if (when!) they embarrass us by their disobedience, we turn around and embarrass them in our discipline. But hey … gotta teach those rugrats a lesson, right?

Yeesh. God help us as parents.

I am not advocating a lackadaisacal parenting style that never disciplines or instructs. But I am saying it would behoove us to remember that we are instruments in the hand of the Potter ~ not the Potter Himself ~ and that parenting is just one of many means the Potter uses to shape parents into His image.

I never knew I had an anger issue before I became a parent. Nor did I know I was lazy, impatient, and disorganized. God used (and is using) my kids to help me see my deepest issues and get me into shape. He’s also using me to help my kids see their deepest issues, but the bigger picture of parenting is found in the latter part of our verse:

All we are the work of His hand.

In other words, I am on the same journey as my children. I am not better than my children. I am not alpha over my children. I am in a spiritual battle WITH my children. The only difference between me and them is this: I should be farther along in the journey than they are. Therefore, I should be looking at my children as disciples – not someone to be bullied into obeying my every whim so I feel like some kind of spiritual patriarch, but someone I can edify, encourage, and shepherd toward Christ-likeness.

Below are some practical ways I’ve discipled my own children. They’re not the only methods out there. But hopefully, they serve to get your mental juices flowing. As always, feel free to tweak or add to the list.

First, get on their level. If they’re fifteen, go play some ball or do some shopping together. If they’re two and terrible, you better be playing a large amount of tickle games, baby dolls, Chutes and Ladders, and tea time (whatever they are interested in), while setting reasonable, age appropriate boundaries. Because if you don’t, by the time they’re fifteen, their ear will be deaf, and they won’t have one iota of desire to play ball, shop, or even converse with you. This is what we call “moral authority.” It’s the idea that you love someone by laying down your life in whatever way possible, so that when it comes time to correct, you have already built a strong foundation in your relationship that then allows you to say, “Hey, I love you, but you can’t act that way. Now knock it off.”

Second, choose your battles. Establish what is essential to peace and godliness in your home, and enforce those few things. Ask yourself, “Is my child’s behavior altering his spiritual wellness or the spiritual wellness of others, or does it just bug the living bajeebers out of me?”

You’ll be amazed at how much you can let slide. It’s freeing. Because let’s face it, nitpicking is exhausting for both the nitpicker and the nitpicked, and nobody wants to live with a micromanager. So if your little disciples resemeble a hen that’s been plucked alive, it’s probably time to get your adult size trousers on. Grow up spiritually, keep the main thing the main thing, and temper yourself so your children have an impeccable example of how to temper themselves.

Last, but not least, pray! Because all efffective discipling is done through prayer, and lots of it. Many times throughout the years, I’ve gone to bed either mad, confused, or worried about my kids. Without fail, I pray some, fall asleep, and wake up two hours later with an even heavier heart. This is always my signal to grab the iPhone, click the Bible app, find my way to my favorite Psalm of repentance (chapter 51), and pray lengthy prayers over them and myself – especially if there’s been conflict. Because the truth of the matter in parenting is that when there’s conflict, the need for repentance can usually be found in both parent and child.

All we are the work of His hand.

Hypothermia of the Heart

Mountain2

On my bucket list, #3 reads: Shoot a deer.

Three years ago, I decided to try and cross off #3. So we headed to my hometown of Montrose to roam hills that are typically laden with bucks, does, and fawns. Elk, too. Pastor Mike tagged along that year, and the plan was that he would take Andrew and hike up one ledge, while Shaun took me to hike up another, and we would all meet at the truck come high noon.

Shaun doesn’t do so well with the sit and wait type of hunting, so the plan within the plan was that when the two of us reached the top of our ledge, he would take a merry hike through the valley below to try and scare something out. Preferably a buck, since that’s what my tag was for.

It didn’t work. For a few hours, I sat on a cold, hard, damp rock, rifle in one hand, binoculars in the other. The only movement I saw came from a twig. Once, when I looked through the binoculars, I noticed it was difficult to shift my eyes from left to right, as if they were beginning to freeze in their sockets. When Shaun arrived minutes later, I said, “I’m beginning to get pretty cold. We better get moving.”

But it was too late. Not five minutes later, my teeth began to chatter uncontrollably. Soon, I became disoriented, barely able to decipher the difference between snow packed ground and overcast sky. Everything blurred together, topsy turvy. My entire body shook. I couldn’t think. Shaun debated whether to stop and start a fire or keep me moving, in the hopes of getting my blood flowing. He decided on the latter, despite my desire to climb inside his jacket like a hundred pound baby in a baby wrap while he fumbled around for matches and tried to spark a full-blown fire.

What can I say? Hypothermia makes a gal nuts.

It was one of those moments where you’re pretty sure that unless something miraculous happens, you’re going to die. I’ve never been that cold in my life. In spite of being a disoriented nut case, I was aware I was experiencing hypothermia, and was not far from the final stage when, in spite of being ice cold, a feeling of warmth sets in and ushers you into a deep sleep that then ushers you right into eternity.

So I walked. And I comforted myself with Paul’s words:

Absent from the body, present with the Lord.

Whatever happened, happened. My job was to step, step, step. One foot in front of the other, until a sovereign decision was made as to whether my blood would flow or freeze.

How reminiscent of the Christian walk. Here I am, Lord, with a stone cold heart, and unless you intervene, stone cold I shall remain.

There’s an initial warming of our hypothermic hearts that occurs when we become His. But I’m here to tell you that once warm always warm isn’t the way it goes down. Cooler weather always comes. And suddenly, we find ourselves frigid and once again praying change my heart, O God, make it ever true …

We should pray that. But we shouldn’t simply pray and then assume God will do all the work. He works in us to will and to do. Even when we feel frigid, we have to keep walking by reading His Word, assembling ourselves together, making disciples and being disciples, loving our neighbor, and developing fruits of the Spirit.

It’s hard. That trek I made hand in hand with Shaun back to the truck was uphill, people. I didn’t feel one iota of strength for my next step. Everything in my body was telling me to lie down, give up, forget the bucket list and kick the bucket. Is that not the way it is with this thing we call a relationship with Jesus Christ? We experience a valley, and spiritually, we get cold, because harrumph!! life isn’t turning out the way we planned, and He’s not giving us what we want. So we reach a pivotal moment. We either succumb to our fatigue and negativity, or we faint not and eventually reap. Whatever our decision, we should remember this:

The question is never whether He’s doing His part, because God always keeps His promises. He will keep us. The question is always whether we are doing ours. It would have been futile (and maybe fatal) for Shaun to walk for me. He could bear my load (read: carry my rifle), hold my hand, and orient me in the right direction. But walking was my task.

So if the weather outside is frightful and the fire inside your heart is not so delightful, take a step, and then another, believing that He is able to keep you from stumbling. Sooner or later, the simple but oh-so-hard task of walking whilst hypothermic will land you exactly where it landed me: safe on the hilltop.

Yet in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. ~Romans 8:37

Subscribe to RSS Feed Follow me on Twitter!