Wednesday, August 31, 2016

An Obvious Blessing Hidden in Plain Sight

One of my favorite insights from Corrie ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place, happens before their captivity. She and her sisters place their mother, who recently suffered a stroke, at the upstairs window of the watch shop. She writes,

"Mama’s love had always been the kind that acted itself out with soup pot and sewing basket. But now that these things were taken away, the love seemed as whole as before. She sat in her chair at the window and loved us. She loved the people she saw in the street—and beyond: her love took in the city, the land of Holland, the world. And so I learned that love is larger than the walls that shut it in." (p. 44)

And so it is. Our love for others is not hindered by illness, disease, distance or time. Prayer supersedes them all. Love, through prayer, thought and motive overcomes limitations. What joy we have in loving others, even when we cannot physically express it.

That same love is evident in worship. We love the Lord with our words and actions throughout the week. We also love Him with our expressions and emotions. One of my greatest joys each week is to watch others during our Sunday morning worship service. Parents hold hymnals on pew backs and underline words with their fingers as children follow along. Those who have memorized familiar words, sing with full voice, heads held high. Others stumble and follow along, unsure of the melody or words, but confident in the One who receives it. Perhaps it looks different at your church, but in Christ, we worship with one heart our one God of all.

As I look across our congregation, I know that individuals are struggling with health, in relationships, challenging job situations and financial hardships. But I watch them sing freely, offering a sacrifice of praise, despite their circumstances--and that is a beautiful gift. I cannot begin to describe its measure--grandparents, international students, single men and women, newlyweds, children, full-nesters and empty-nesters--the wonder of hearts knit together.

This Sunday, look at your fellow citizens, your future roommates, and eternal companions. Don't miss the blessing of worshiping together; our God and Father, through Jesus Christ and by His Spirit. Thank God for His gift of one another, of your fellowship with Him and others through Christ. Enjoy the feast of worship, filled with the goodness and truth of of His Word, encouraged and spurred on by the love and faith of fellow saints. And if you find you can't, look to the Lord, His Word, and your heart. It's a good gift He wants you to enjoy the way He does.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. (Psalm 103:1-5)

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:15-22)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Backside of Public Schooling

My husband and I are starting to walk out the other side of a door called, "Parenting," and into a new room of life. Our last two children are in high school. Our oldest graduated from college. And as we look back, I'm very thankful we, as Christian parents, sent our children to public school.
Before listing some of the benefits and blessings, let me say that there is no perfect school decision for every child or every family: home school, private school, public school--they all have their place. Let me also mention that we had the privilege of choosing our community. My husband commuted so we could live in a community that was small enough to be a part of, to influence as individuals and a family, and to fall in love with. Before they were even school-age, we chose our community based on the desire to put our children in public school with a purpose.

The Scriptural basis for our decision was Hebrews 5:12-14: For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

My husband, David, may have additional thoughts, but for my part, I wanted our children to learn the Word of God at home and have a place to practice, or apply it, in real life. I wanted them to face 5-year-old problems at a 5-year-old level: bullying, worldly influences, making friends, submitting to authority, learning life skills. In some situations/schools, that's not a wise choice. In our situation, it was a hard, but fabulous, experience. We cried with our children, problem-solved, and sent them back to school. We met with teachers, volunteered in the classroom, and got involved in the parent-teacher organization (see the page, "To Tango with a Teacher" on this site). As older parents, we help in specific pockets of interest, show up at activities to cheer on students, and serve on the school board.

Here are a few blessings--some we intentionally worked and hoped for, others just happened:

- We shared Christ with teachers, staff and children for seventeen years (and counting). Our job isn't to convert anyone, it's simply to be a light and share the Light.

-  We love the people of our community. Ours is a diverse group of people where the majority is minorities. All of us are part of the whole. We have learned new cultures, new languages, and ways of looking at the world. We speak and think of our neighbors and community members with respect, admiration, love and fondness.We belong together. We live together. We raise children and serve our community together.

- Being in the schools gave us the privilege of being a "mom" and "dad" to kids and an open door of friendship with countless parents, teachers, administrators, and staff. As our children grow, our time of school life is quickly passing. We will still be spectators at events and volunteers in our community, but we will lose passport into the daily lives of students and their families.

- Our children have experienced life. The world doesn't revolve around them and they don't expect it to. They have seen, on a daily basis, students with special needs, language and learning disabilities, different values, more skill and abilities, and teachers/friends fighting cancer, losing loved ones, living through divorce, neglect, legal intervention and heartache. They have seen the danger of unhealthy relationships, the brevity of life, the stupidity of drugs, the drunkenness of fame.

- Our children have learned skills and experienced the passion of amazing teachers with different gifts and ways of looking at life.They studied under the literature Nazi, the calculus queen, and the drama guru. They found out they need 14 hugs a day to be strong, thriving children, marched in step and presented at state conventions. They earned respect, learned respect and grew to appreciate its power. They have been privileged to work with and be taught by talented, committed adults outside our family and church who challenged their character, future, and stretched them beyond what they thought was possible.

- Our children are more dependent on God than us. They were offered hash brownies in a back room, head-butted in the cafeteria, cat-called in the parking lot--and we, their parents, weren't there. But we talked about those things, we went to God in prayer for the things we knew and the things we didn't. In word and by example, we turned to God and leaned on Him. We taught them to look for ways to solve problems--asking God for wisdom. That does not mean we were always successful or they never made bad choices, but it was part of the learning process. Now that some of them are off and running, we are thankful for the training ground of life in the real world.

As our daughter left for college this morning, I called through her open window, "Trust the Lord!" David added, "And keep both hands on the wheel!" That's what they've learned: dependent responsibility.

The basis for parenting in a God-centered way is given in Deuteronomy--and it can be part of the public school choice for any Christian parent. Our culture continues to change, and we need make wise decisions, but always with God at the center. Regardless of your choice, it starts with you--the parent.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, emphasis added)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Worship Outside the Box

Life has been full this summer, but I am reminded this morning that, "Life is worship." If you define worship as specific activities, times or events, let me challenge you to look more broadly.

Jesus was defined by obedience and suffering (Heb. 2:10-18, 5:8), In and through all of life, He depended on His Heavenly Father. The gospels note nights spent in prayer, moments of prayer, teaching on prayer. Peter tells us that through the most excruciating time of His life, He depended on the Father (1 Peter 2:23). And God was pleased.

What if worship is not what we do, where we are, or when we are, but "how" we do the where, when and what? If that's true, calling a friend is worship; in an attitude of prayer, I can please God with my words and actions. Serving my family is worship; with prayer and a thankful heart, I can prepare meals, wash dishes and laundry, or clean the house as an act of worship. I can worship as I love my husband, read the newspaper, sort the mail, return emails and make appointments.

And when that is the case, when all of life is about pleasing the Lord, there's no pressure to perform--I'm accepted, loved, and forgiven--vanity is replaced with purpose; joy and contentment are constant companions. Yes, there's disappointment, sorrow, frustration, anger, and despair, but in and through it all, the God who provided salvation also provides grace. Grace for the moment.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58)