Sunday, August 31, 2014

Children Trump...Ministry?

Being a mom has many facets—and reveals more about me as a person than me as a mom. What’s really important? What do I love—more than anything? What matters and what doesn’t? Where I spend my time and energy reveals my heart.

If you read the earlier blog on how husbands trump ministry, you know my struggle with ministry and marriage. My parenting came under conviction around that same time (and continues—maybe your parenting convictions came all at once, lucky you—twenty years later).

God used the story of Manasseh, a wicked king of Judah, to pierce my heart. Manasseh was raised by a godly father, Hezekiah—God even ran the sun backward for him—but became king at the age of 12 and rebuilt the altars and high places his father had torn down.  What happened on those altars? He “made his sons pass through the fire” (2 Kings 21:6). That’s saying it nicely.  In truth sacrificed his sons as a means of worship. Their lives for his benefit.

As I looked at my own acts of worship and service within the Church, a voice inside asked, “Sydney, where is your focus? What does your life communicate about what’s really important?” I was convicted by the many times I gave in to meeting the needs of others over and above the needs of my immediate family. There was a sense of immediate gratification and appreciate from others that didn’t happen at home.

Children are not designed to appreciate and laud me. They are a gift to make me more like Jesus. Jesus willingly gave up everything for me—his comfort, reputation, glory, even His life. Children are my opportunity to practice giving my all with or without applause. They are long-term disciples, living and learning, watching and waiting. To overlook or neglect ministry to them is to neglect my God-given responsibility.

God’s response to Manasseh and those who offered their children to false gods was this, “They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Nimmon to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind (Jeremiah 7:31). God does not require or ask us to offer our children. He calls us to sacrifice ourselves. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).

On a dangerous, personal note: your god may not be ministry or the church. You may sacrifice your children on the altar of career or special interests, charity, personal goals or hobbies. May each of us be challenged to love our children as God loves us.

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma….

Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord  giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God. (Ephesians 5:1-2, 8-21)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fly Fishing Discipleship

I had the amazing privilege of fly fishing with my dad in the mountain streams of Wyoming a couple of weeks ago. We walked upstream in chest waders, casting and reeling. At one point, my father ahead of me, I said to myself, "Even if you took a picture, it would never be this vivid. How could you capture varied widths of grass, the scent of pine and sage, fresh oxygen and wildflowers? Who could show the swirls of clear water flecked green and gold or the dark still pools? And Dad. Look. Remember. This moment will never be the same. Study him as he finds footing, casts, plays the line, casts, and plays the line. Don't forget. It's yours--and you can keep it for later if you look at it now."


And as we took turns wading, working pools and rippling currents, I could see similarities between my father's instruction and discipleship. Our first time out, he told me where he was going to cast and why, threw out his line, put the rod in my hand, and, his own over mine, guided the fly downstream. The second day, he sent me ahead, "They'll be there because.... And if that doesn't work, try.... A little to the left. There you go.... Oooh, ooh! That's it! That's what you want."
Then I would watch him move ahead for a turn of his own and heard him in my head, "Slow down... lift, back... a little to the right....."

What encouraged me most were the times his cast didn't land in exactly the right place. Sometimes he caught a tree limb or bush on the bank. Sometimes he switched out bait. Sometimes he didn't catch anything. For him it was sometimes. For me it was most times. But I was both encouraged and awed. He's fly fished for sixty years. Almost weekly. I've been a few times. Sporadically. But the truth is, no matter how long, how much or how passionately he fishes, he still has to work at it. It takes effort, practice, time and multiple attempts to get the desired result.

Life, as a believer in Jesus Christ is like that. Some of us have spent decades walking upstream, seeking, casting, jigging the line. Some of us are relatively new. We're trying to get the feel of uneven rocks under our feet, to catch our balance against strong currents on smooth, slippery stones. We watch those ahead as if they're moving, living, working effortlessly. But as we come alongside one another, reaching out to those ahead or behind us, a wonderful dynamic takes place. The more experienced point out the nature and types of things that really matter. They show us where to look and how to cast. They throw out a line of their own and guide our hands until we get the hang of it.

As we spend time wading upstream, we notice it still requires effort, practice, time and multiple attempts to get it right. No one has perfected life. In fact, to add an unseen element, none of us does it on our own. God is the unseen Provider of health, resources, equipment, knowledge, and opportunity. For those who have trusted Jesus alone for salvation, He enables and guides us. He is the One the older fisher-persons direct younger ones to follow.

We caught fish in the Rockies, slipping them off the hook and back into the stream as we shared life for a couple of days. The fish were fun, but not necessary. How much more, when we see our Savior, will we cast crowns at His feet? The sorrow and journey will be but a part of the gift we lay before our Creator-God, the One who blessed us. What a wonder that He has given us each other as a reflection of His loving care.

What to do? Look ahead, look behind, up and down the river of life, and get busy making (and being) disciples!

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.  And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. Ephesians 5:1-2