Friday, December 28, 2018

What's Love Got to Do With It?

I took note of a young woman the other day. She wore the same clothes I'd seen her wear before. She hadn't changed her hair or appearance. But there was an air about her--and it only took a moment to realize what it was. Not only is she a woman in love; she is loved. She carries herself differently. She sees others in a new light. There is a dimension of awareness, a carefree confidence, a strident disregard for lesser things.

And I was reminded that I am loved. Set apart. Bought and paid for by a Victorious Warrior. How does Jesus' love affect the way I see the world? Others? Difficulty? Temporary treasures? As a recipient of love--real love, not emotion, but action; a choice initiated by my Creator, provided by my Savior, extended through His Spirit--it changes everything.... Absolutely. Everything.

“The Lord your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy." (Zephaniah 3:17)

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.

But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:6-18)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

To Be or Not to Be--a Super Momma

My last post was a warning to Super Mommas. One woman wrote, "So where's the balance? What's the difference between a godly momma and a super momma?"

If it was a matter of appearance, it might be hard to tell the difference. Many of us have the mistaken idea that doing is being. If I go to church, do this, do that, give my best, try harder, and keep it up, the Lord will bless me. All will be well.

However, if the basis of our relationship with God is doing what's right and giving my best, I've missed the point. Doing what I can to reach God is not Christianity; it's religion.

In many Christian circles it has morphed into a more subtle, God will bless me for obedience and chastise me for disobedience, Old Testament model. Parents quote the verse, "Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). Although those are windows into the character of God and biblical principles, they become the mantra of Christian parenting. It's simple and straight-forward: I do my job, God does His. It's predictable, clean, difficult, but guaranteed.

That's what a Super Momma does: more, bigger, better. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward! Onward and upward! Tally-ho! with encouragement, modeling, and prayer from other Mommas.

Problem: that's not actually what God said. Rewind. Reframe. And ask, where does Jesus come in to the picture? If all I have is the obedience=blessing, disobedience=chastisement, it could become another you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours relationship. This may sound harsh, but in our hearts and minds it may be: Jesus, if you save me from sin, I'll obey you the rest of my life. Therein lies the problem. We can't. We won't. We don't.

The Old Testament points to Jesus and the New Testament is all about Jesus. That means God knows I can't, won't, don't. In His economy, life is not about my obedience; it's about Jesus. If He is who He says He is, there ought to be so much more!

God 101 reminds us that God is God. He will not give His glory to another. He cannot be manipulated, understood, or subverted. He rules in justice and righteousness--at all times, in all ways.

People 101 tells us that we are sinners. Our children and husbands are sinners. We are fallen, selfish creatures who remain in depravity and darkness when left to ourselves. We have no power to determine our outcome or the outcome of anyone else--husband, children, disciples, loved ones.

Jesus 101 says that He is the Light, Bread, Water, and Sustainer of all. The Father chooses. The Son lived, died and rose again, paying the price for the sin's penalty, freeing us from sin's power. Jesus saves. Jesus intercedes. Jesus will judge.

Holy Spirit 101 teaches us that only the Holy Spirit gives life. We do not know how He moves, we can only see evidence of His work. 

The problem comes when any of us--Super Momma, Super Christian, Super Pastor, Super Worker--take on the role of God, Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit. We jump out of People 101 assuming the role, responsibilities and privileges of God Himself. Somehow we have the sense that, with responsibility, comes sovereignty. Yes, God gave mankind a command to multiply His goodness and character, rule and subdue in justice and righteousness. But we have no control over the outcome. We make choices, but we don't choose the consequences. With sin comes brokenness.You are broken. Your children see it. They know it. They're actually watching to see what you do with it.

Your children are broken. You cannot "make" them do anything. You can provide consequences and an environment of loving care. You can educate, provide for and protect. But each one will make his or her own choices. Each one will submit to God or choose his own way. People 101 does not give parents, or mothers, a seat on God's executive committee or pre-approval for sovereignty.

As a mom, we must prepare each child to live a broken life in a broken world. Even when I desire to protect and prepare them in the safety of our home, they must ultimately learn to live in a cesspool of sin. It permeates our homes, churches, and every encounter. The world outside has few barriers against the depravity of sin. Children see ours. They practice theirs--in our presence and out of it. (See People 101). People will use, damage, and otherwise seek to destroy our children due to their own brokenness and sin (again, see People 101). Coming to terms with the reality of our world is where many of us have failed our children. We want a better world, a better experience, a better outcome than what we, ourselves have had. 

That's where Jesus comes in. Every moment. Every day. Every relationship. Every situation. We. are. broken. But we have Jesus...

Because of Jesus we can
  • Acknowledge and confess our own sin--even if it's as subtle as wanting a sin-free environment, comfort, relief, peace over and above what God has provided. 
  • Allow our children to experience failure, frustration, anger, and sin-induced pain. 
  • Impose and apply real consequences--the world certainly will. God does. 
  • Expose our children to age-appropriate depravity and 
  • Teach them to address sin against themselves as well as the sinful responses of their own heart. With Jesus' help, we can train and build our children's spiritual muscle for spiritual battles using the Word of God. Jesus helps, forgives, goes before, loves, and disciplines every moment of every day.
When we put children under a grow-light in the basement, they show early growth, tall and green, but fail to form deep, sturdy roots.The result is a quickly withering, dying plant that cannot stand against unpredictable wind and fluctuating sunlight. Instead, when we expose them to wind, storms, and a contaminated environment, providing support, shelter and guidance as needed, they develop a heart and mind that is prepared for growth, even in times of drought.

Perhaps you, like me, find yourself wanting to live a victorious life...without Jesus. As He shows me the pride, wickedness, and deceit of my heart, I must run to Him, admitting my need and falling on His mercy. We must do the same with our children, teaching them that the only life worth living is one that is fully satisfied with and dependent on Jesus Christ--through the storms. the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” 11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:7-14)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Super-Momma, Stop!

In raising our family, we have seen tragedy strike others and we take it as an opportunity to evaluate our own hearts and lives. Recently we heard of a previously committed, professing Christian and full-time mom who walked out on her husband and family. The story isn't over; God's grace is always enough, but so many lives have been affected by this once-professing Christ follower, namely, her children.

When Momma walks away from Jesus, where does that leave her children? This was a good reminder for me to stop and reflect, to shout the warning, "Super-Momma, stop! Look! Beware!" I recognize that this post could create a "conversation." Right or wrong, biased or not, the goal is to heighten awareness, to put our focus on God instead of ourselves. It's okay if you don't agree--and I welcome your comments--but, in the end, I pray this post redirects each of us to Jesus in one way or another.

Some Super Mommas home-school their children. Others place their children in public or private school. Super Mommas may appear put-together or somewhat at a loss. Regardless of the differences, children of Super Mommas change in skill and size, but lean heavily on one person: Super Momma. Based on observation and experience, here are some danger signs:

- Children cannot complete age-appropriate tasks without Momma's encouragement, direction, or assistance. Momma cannot not encourage, direct and assist.

- Children constantly make eye-contact with Momma; they are hesitant to act or interact with others independently.

- Children are seldom left in other's care or influence. Conversations with other adults are regurgitated and reinterpreted according to Momma.

- Children do not self-regulate their speech (i.e. interruptions), interactions with others,  discernment, decisions, time management, chores, responsibilities, etc. because Momma does it for them.

- Momma feels threatened, angry, and/or defensive when others make suggestions, correct, or instruct her or her children children.

- Momma measures her worth, failure and success by her children's achievements or lack thereof.

Some children walk away altogether. As they get older, they see themselves as Momma's thermostat rather than an individual with a will and life of their own and rebel. Super Momma falters and falls to one degree or another because of her failure. What did she miss? How did this happen? Why do other children thrive, children whose parents are "careless" while her own fledgling(s) struggle to get off the ground?

What affects even more people is when Momma turns her back on Jesus and His Church. She's hit the end of the road.  Her children are gone. Her calling has greatly diminished, if not ended. Ka-putz. Finished. The driving force and purpose for life has vanished. Not only are her children busy with their own lives, they also fail to appreciate her years of self-sacrifice and personal loss. Momma is now a post-momma. A shell. An after thought.

All at once, the world is big and new, an oyster waiting to be plucked. Perhaps she moves forward on fumes of resentment, bitterness, and self-pity because she "gave it all" and is experiencing great loss. All those years, she may have refused to leave her children for date nights or get-aways with her husband, to spend money on her personal needs and wants, build relationships with other women (as a person, not a Momma), pursue her own interests, fan to flame her spiritual gifts, invest outside her family.... And now, the time is gone. The opportunities are past. The investment has been paid out. Her reason and purpose for life has disappeared. All that's left is loss. Grief. Regret. Emptiness. Loneliness. A great. Big. Hole.

It is a good reminder for me to stop and examine my own heart. In parenting and loving, doing what God has called me to, am I seeking to fulfill my desire for success, achievement, fulfillment, control, order, appreciation, approval, recognition through our children? From the outside, it might be difficult to tell, but God is faithful. He has a way of knocking down what we value most, apart from Himself. This one, unfortunately, is long in coming, sucking the life out of a person day after day, month by month, decade by decade.

There is also the danger of failing to recognize, know, love, or admire the man a Super Momma committed herself to so many years ago at the altar. The gift God provided in the form of a husband, life mate, brother in Christ, and image of His love. It was all about the children. Somehow, the fact that he gave and sacrificed for so long, in so many ways, doesn't matter. Her sacrifice. His sacrifice. It was all for the children. And where has it gone?

She tried to be Jesus--and failed. She thought if she did it right, if she gave it all, if, if, would be beautiful and they would live happily ever after. Her children would be model citizens and active servants of God. They would love, admire, and appreciate her efforts and she would continue to be their compass and companion.

The problem is that it was based on her effort and sacrifice, not faith. It was up to her; it was her responsibility; there was no room for the grace of God, for children who disobey, fail, and exercise their own faith based on natural and parental consequences. There was fear of appearance, fear of failure, fear of the future, fear of children's salvation (or lack thereof)... so much fear. So little faith.

In and through it all, God can use even the failings of a Super-Momma to call His children to Himself. He can send a storm to shake the world of the Super-Momma who has jumped on a ship to Tarshish and left her husband in the dust. He can and will use it all. But He also gives us examples of warning--and for me, this was one.

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. As has just been said:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion.”

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:12-19)

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.

Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-2, 6-11)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Life Hack

I don't remember where I saw or read this housekeeping hack, but it sure makes a difference--and it's so simple! When I walk in to a room I simply ask, "What bothers me about this?" Maybe it's a pair of shoes on the floor, a magazine, pillow or blanket out of place. Sometimes it's dirty dishes, clutter, or crumbs. Whatever it is, even if I just fix one thing each time I pass from one place to the next I make progress.

The same is true in the rest of our lives. If we would stop to ask, "What bothers me about this ____ (relationship, situation, job, etc)" and allow God to work in and through us, we could do away with a lot of unnecessary static and clutter. It's hard to evaluate ourselves and our lives, but the introduction of social media, technology, and smart phones has created more distractions.

Instead of getting angry, writing people off, or giving them the silent treatment, stop and ask, "What bothers me about this?" Prayerfully consider the thoughts and desires of your heart. Be ready to confess, repent, deal with, or simply discuss life issues--and keep your eyes open for God's incredible, healing work.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Faithful Hammer of God

This blog has, perhaps, gotten carried away with insights from Bible reading and failed to reflect personal application lately. Maybe I'm looking at life differently, or maybe it's my age, but God has been hammering a few spots lately.

Last spring I contacted a book publisher about my recently finished thesis on domestic abuse. You may already know the story, so skip ahead if you will. After a month of silence, she expressed interest but let me know it would need to be rewritten in book form--and I had 6 weeks to get it done. Throughout the process, God impressed on my heart and mind His provision and intervention.

Book available: here  Website: here  Facebook: here

There is no earthly way I could have completed the project. I'm still not sure how it all came together and I had concerns even after it was published that it said what it should, but God moved people (including me and this brain), circumstances, and the project along. The Truth is His. The timing is His. The outcome is His. One morning, near the end of the project, my computer died. Software? Gone. Hardware? Gone. Memory? Gone. One thing after another, hour after hour, rewrite after rewrite, discouragement after discouragement, encouragement after encouragement, God kept it going. Hammer. Ping. Clash. Clatter. Smash. Pressure. Heat. Stretching.

Remain committed to previous commitments? Bang. Respond lovingly when you're tired and your mind is strained? Ping. Take correction and criticism gracefully? Wham. Listen to sermons, podcasts, radio, filtering for content and Truth? Clunk. Read endless blog posts and web pages weighing secular versus biblical material? Clang. Endure physical pain and discomfort from sedentary hours? Thwack. Take on unwanted weight? Thud.

My prayer and desire is that I remember, not my effort, but God's grace. I have had opportunities to speak and present book material since then and it has been extremely rewarding. What fun to see "ah-hah!" lights come on for people who begin to see the deceit and destruction of abuse-related situations, knowing it's possible they've only seen a small part of the problem because so much was hidden. They've been manipulated. Even more precious are comments and written correspondence  from women in abusive marriages who read and respond to God's grace as it applies to domestic abuse and their own lives.

I am certainly not an expert on all things related to domestic abuse, but by combining the truth of God as it relates to the unique dynamics of abuse, women find hope. They see themselves, their relationship and situation differently. They learn to think about and respond differently. And God in His goodness brings change through His Word. It's a marvelous, God-given work!

There's another, more difficult area of my life God took in hand recently. As I'm able, I will address it in a future post. What I do know is that He is faithful, able, loving, and intimately aware of how to mold, shape, and use me for His purpose and good work.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.(Ephesians 2:4-10 NASB)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Danger and Deceit of Partial Obedience

Although it isn't rocket science, one of the most influential factors in parenting even small children was the use of Scripture. We didn't beat our children over the head or cram it down their throats, we simply used it as our authority. God said that my job, as a mom (or dad), is to train and discipline our children. I told them that and it made me accountable. As they saw me giving up other opportunities or priorities to train and discipline them, they were more receptive to hear what God had to say to them. After all, if I say one thing (God says Moms are to ____) but I obviously don't obey God myself, then why should they obey either one of us?

The same thing happened in the life of Samuel and King Saul. Samuel received a message from the Lord (utterly destroy King Agag and the Amalekites). He delivered the message to Saul who then partially obeyed, partially came up with his own, "better," plan. God made it clear to Samuel that Saul had blown it, and Samuel was grieved, so grieved that he cried out to the Lord all night.

Have you been there? A grown child, spouse, or friend sins boldly against God. You see not only the pride and unbelief, but the consequences that could result. The one you love, invested in, watched, taught, and intervened for has turned his/her back on God and doesn't see it; doesn't care.

Samuel's response was so, so excellent! It's worth learning from.After a time of prayer and grieving:

  • Samuel got up early the next morning meet Saul. He didn't shy away from the encounter. He didn't procrastinate or make excuses. As soon as he was able, he determined to find Saul and work it out. "Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul..." (1 Sam. 15:12)
  • He did what it took to find Saul. He wasn't discouraged by the fact that Saul had moved on; Saul had already built himself a monument (note: there was no altar for God, just a declaration of Saul's prowess and might). " was told Samuel, saying, 'Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself, ten turned and proceeded on down to Gilgal.'"(1 Sam. 15:12)
  • Samuel wasn't put off by or distracted by Saul's cheery greeting and desire to paint things pink. "'Blessed are you of the LORD! I have carried out the command of the LORD.'"(1 Sam. 15:13)
  • Samuel asked a question regarding the evidence of disobedience, giving Saul an opportunity to come clean and repent. "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" (1 Sam. 15:14)
  • Saul blameshifted, denied responsibility, excused his disobedience and touted partial obedience. "'They have brought them from the Amalekites for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.'" (1 Sam. 15:15)
  • At this point, Samuel nearly interrupted Saul with real, actual, words of the Lord (instead of Saul's selfish, watered down, deluded interpretation). "'Wait, and let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.'" ( 1 Sam. 15:16) 
  • He reminded Saul of who he was and how that changed with God's call on his life. "Is it not true, though you were little in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel? And the LORD anointed you king over Israel." (1 Sam. 15:17)
  • He restated God's command: "'the LORD sent you on a mission and said, "God and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are exterminated."'" (1 Sam. 15:18)
  • And gave Saul another opportunity to confess and repent. "'Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD, but rushed upon the spoil and did what was evil in the sight of the LORD?'" (1 Sam. 15:19)
  • Saul repeated his answer, replacing God's command with his desired interpretation, "I did obey the voice of the LORD, and went on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites..." (1 Sam. 15:20)
  • Saul adds blameshifting (again) and throws the name of God back at Samuel  "But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God at Gilgal." (1 Sam. 15:21, emphasis added)
  • Samuel lays it on the line, calling Saul out with a few powerful words (1 Sam. 15:22-23).
  • In response, Saul says, "Ok, yeah, you're right, I sinned. Just forgive me and let's do this sacrifice. I'm going to worship God and move on." (1 Sam. 15:24).Notice, there is no corporate worship, no desire for fellowship, the focus is on outward doing and fixing as a substitute for heart change.
  • Samuel, praise the LORD, continued with loving confrontation. He refused to be used, bullied, or manipulated. He will not take the easy out. "But Samuel said to Saul, 'I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel." (1 Sam. 15:26).
  • In response, Saul assaults Samuel. Reaching out, he grabbed Samuel roughly and completely enough to tear his clothing. (1 Sam. 15:27).
  • Samuel then used Saul's violence as evidence of coming consequences."So Samuel said to him, 'The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you.'" (1 Sam. 15:28).
  • Samuel continued, his final words to Saul, words that may have echoed for years to come, words Saul fought the rest of his life, words that declare God and His character: "Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind." (1 Sam. 15:29)
  • Again, Saul says, "I'm sorry..." just don't make me look bad. Come with me, let's do this. (1 Sam. 15:30).

Samuel went with Saul at that point, but he there is no record of conversation or moving on. After this encounter, "Samuel went to Ramah, but Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death...."1 Sam. 15:34-35.

That's really long, but the point is, we have to make God's Word the authority. Allowing our children to make excuses, wriggle out from under the consequences or blame others does nothing more than train them for a life of disobedience. It's not easy. It requires constant attention, intervention, honesty, inconvenience, and hard, fast love, but it's God's calling on our lives if we belong to Him. Samuel was not responsible for Saul's choices, but he was responsible to uphold the Word of God, to represent Him accurately, and to enact consequences that were in his realm of responsibility.

Are you a Samuel or a Saul? It will be evident in your words and choices. God gives repeated opportunities to cry out to Him, confess our sin, and change. Maybe this is yours....