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Archive for October, 2012

James 1:2-3: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (NIV)

Bullied on the playground…teased on the bus…picked last for the team in gym class…a failing grade after studying all week.  Growing up is hard.  People are mean, schoolwork is challenging, friendships are confusing, and bodies are changing fast.  One minute they’re little kids excited about the newest videogame and the next they’re debating the virtues of hanging out with their friends past curfew.

Maybe I’m unique in my approach, but I don’t feel my job as a mom is to make life easier for my kids.  Do I purposefully want them to have problems with their friends, their grades, mess up regarding chores around the house, or receive natural consequences for leaving their cell phone outside and it rained?  No…and Yes.

I don’t sit around and dream up struggles for my kids to experience, and my first response is usually to want to make life easier, not harder for those I love. However, I do believe that they will be more prepared for independence and “real life” if they have the opportunity to experience age-appropriate challenges under our big safety net.  It’s not healthy for me to take my kids’ struggles away from them, but I will be there to help when they ask.  A favorite phrase that I like to repeat in our house is, “I’m happy to do for you what you can’t do for yourselves, but if you’re mature enough for a particular job, it’s all yours.”

I believe that’s how God handles His relationship with us.  He doesn’t take away all our problems, but He’s right there, handling the stuff that’s too big for us, watching, and holding out a safety net for the others.  The struggles that we face help us develop the character we need to fulfill His purpose in our life.  If God always stepped in and rescued us, we would be nothing but a spoiled, self-centered person who was unwilling and unprepared to step out of our comfort zone and carry out God’s plan.

So, even though my heart hurts when my kids face struggles and age appropriate disappointments, part of me is grateful that they are experiencing some of that while they have my arms to run into at the end of their day.  Growing up is never easy, but I think adulthood can be a little less of a shock if childhood provides some practice in solving life’s dilemmas.

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Which Translation Are You?

Matthew 7:18-20: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (NIV)

I was reading a devotional in Girlfriends in God, from Crosswalk (Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com), and I wanted to share it today:

“I heard the story of four Bible scholars who were arguing over the best translation of the Bible. One said he preferred the King James Version because of its beautiful, eloquent old English. Another said he preferred the American Standard Bible for its literalism and accurate translation from the original text. A third man preferred the newer translations because of their practical application. The fourth scholar listened thoughtfully and then added, “Personally, I prefer my mother’s translation.” When the other men laughed, he explained, “My mother translates every page of the Bible into her daily life and it is the most convincing translation I have ever seen.”

This really struck a chord with me.  That is the kind of wife and mother I want to be.  I want my husband and my children to see my relationship with God lived out in my daily life.  Do I get it right all the time? Absolutely not.  But, even in those times, when I’m messing up badly, I want them to see Christ shine through. I want to be the wife and mom who apologizes when she’s wrong, who is willing to admit to her mistakes, and especially is willing to try again to make things right according to God’s principles.  I want my interactions with others who don’t know God to walk away from a conversation with me, not feeling judged or preached at, but feeling welcomed and that there is something different about me that they can also have themselves.  I want to draw people toward my loving Saviour, not turn them away from Him because of my actions, attitudes, or rebellion.

My deepest desire is for my husband, my children, my friends, my boss – everyone I have contact with on a regular basis to see that even though I’m human and make lots of mistakes, that I have a connection with my Heavenly Father and it’s His rules (God’s word) that directs my actions.  I want to measure how I live, no matter who I’m with, against what God wants me to do, not what the world tells me is okay.  I’m a work in progress, but that’s how I’d like to be remembered.

Can people see Jesus working in and through you on a daily basis or is He just reserved for those days you are at church or with a certain crowd?  The great part is the choice is yours.  You can choose to have a close relationship with the God of the Universe or you can choose to continue as is.  What translation do you want to be?

 

 

 

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Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (NIV)

I consider myself a Steeler fan.  I grew up in Pittsburgh in the 70s when they won four Super Bowls.  I grew up believing that if you were a fan of a professional football team, they never lost.  Back then, I was part of a group of faithful followers of the team.  Skip ahead a few years and now that I’m a wife and mother, I spend my Sunday afternoons doing things other than just watching football.  I would say I have moved into the casual fan group.  I still enjoy the Steelers, but I’m open-minded and enjoy other teams as well.  I haven’t kept up with the changes in the lineup and don’t even know the player’s names anymore.

Some people claim to love God with their mouths, but that’s as far as it gets.  Other people claim to love God, and after you are done interacting with them, you know it’s been more than a casual conversation. God is so much a part of that individual’s life that after interacting with a true Christ follower, you notice something different and you experience some of God’s character in the exchange.

Now, I admit that I have fallen short in the football fan department.  My parents would be disappointed that I don’t hang my “Terrible Towel” on display or wear my Steeler football jersey on Sunday afternoons after church.  However, as a Christ follower, it’s my goal that when people are finished interacting with me, they have smelled Jesus in my life.

You see, when it comes to my relationship with Jesus Christ – It’s personal, it’s real, and it’s the most important thing in my life.  By putting God first, every other relationship fits.  By making my relationship with God my first priority, it means getting to know Him on an intimate level and seeking to model my life after Him.  My God is a gentleman.  He doesn’t ask me to do things that are hurtful, cruel, or self seeking.  By getting to know Jesus at the deepest level and imitating His actions and His love for others, my other relationships are strengthened, my work ethic is stronger, and my life is more peaceful.  Spending meaningful time with the One, true God makes my life better and hopefully I then pass along some of that peace and love and gentleness to others that I encounter throughout my day.

So, even though I have missed the mark when it comes to being a true football fan, I pray that as I live my daily life, people will see that I have been a faithful follower of Christ, hands down the most important relationship in my life.  Anyone can do it.  All it takes is admitting to God that you are a sinner, confessing those sins to Him, and then asking Jesus to be Lord of your life, entering into a relationship with Jesus.  After that simple step, taking it to the next level is easy.  Just start by spending more time with Him and getting to know Him.  Read the Bible and talk to Him in prayer.  Pretty soon you will move from casual fan to faithful follower as well.  When you have done that, you will then be on the most important team…and soon others will notice a difference when you (and Jesus) walk in the room.

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What Did You Say?

Isaiah 40:31: “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (NIV)

Have you ever started your To Do list in the morning and before you could even finish, the plans you had so carefully laid out were already changed?  You go to bed that night wondering what exactly you accomplished, focusing on what you still need to do, and frustrated as though you crossed off nothing.

How about starting your day this way instead?  Get up fifteen minutes earlier than usual and find a nice comfortable spot to spend some time with God.  After reading the Bible (if you don’t know where to start, the gospels are a great place to begin:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and finish with prayer time (first thanking God for your day and then bringing any concerns you have to Him).  Before you get up, hold out your hands (literally or figuratively) and ask Him to take from you what you don’t need but what others do, to fill you with what He wants you to have, and to help you accomplish His agenda today.

Then, continue on your day as normal.  Go ahead and make your To Do list, but be aware of that still, small voice that whispers every once in a while something that you wouldn’t normally do, but what you feel you should do.  Do you know the voice I mean?  That one that whispers to you to spend some quality time talking or reading to or playing games with your kids instead of texting, spending time on Facebook, or vegging in front of the TV.  Maybe it takes the form of buying a meal for the person standing behind you in line at McDonalds…or it could be as simple as biting back the sarcastic remark and instead speaking words of encouragement to your coworker who has interrupted you for the umpteenth time in the last thirty minutes to talk about the latest gossip.

What about seeing the interruptions in your already busy life as opportunities instead of annoyances?  That phone call that makes you late could very well have saved you from an automobile accident…or the missed visit with your friend frees you up to pick up your sick child.  The play date your child has with the new kid in school could be an opportunity to show God’s love to an entire family who miss their friends and are still learning their way around a strange town.

When you take a minute and reexamine the way you approach your day, it makes a big difference.  If you change your mindset from, “I have to get x, y, and z done, so don’t get in my way,” to “Okay, God, I wasn’t planning this, but how can you use me right now?,” it’s amazing the blessings that you can extend to others as well as the ones given back to you as well. I have found in my own life, when I truly am on the lookout for the Holy Spirit prompting me, I have more energy, I’m more patient, and I sleep better, even when my To Do is only half done.  When I choose to ignore His gentle tug on my soul, my list might be completely crossed off, but I’m crabbier, more irritable, and generally not as much fun to be around.

I’m still a work in progress as I’m guilty for not responding to His voice each and every time, but I do find that when I ignore Him (usually for selfish reasons), I’m disappointed in myself.  And besides, it’s kind of fun to approach life with a “loose agenda.” It’s not an excuse to be lazy (the To Do list still needs to be accomplished), but instead it’s an opportunity to mix things up, to be open and willing to change plans.  It gives me a chance to be a blessing to others and to see what blessings God will ultimately give back to me.

When looked at that way, it’s a win-win for all involved.

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Who Gets Our Words?

Isaiah 40:28-31:  Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (NIV). 

Friday, September 14, 2012, changed the course of life for a high school friend, Stephanie, and her family.  Her husband, Matthew, was driving home from work and was hit head on by another car.  The driver of the other car died instantly leaving her husband with life-threatening injuries as well as recovery that will span the course of months.  Through God’s grace, he has made miraculous progress in a short amount of time, but their road is still a long, and sometimes lonely one.

I have been following Matthew’s progress via Facebook and have been so encouraged by Stephanie’s posts and how she is reaching out for help during this difficult time.  One in particular really touched me.

She wrote: “Matthew had only a few visitors today. Thank you!!! He needed the rest! I needed him to be able to give me some of his words. He has not been talking to me as he had been giving everyone else his words. We were able to talk today and that made my wife heart happy” (Stephanie Link).

How many of us are so busy with deadlines, schedules, meetings, errands, chores around the house, taking care of our kids, and just plain trying to get through the day that we spend so much time and words on others and have nothing left for our spouse when we get home?

I think it hit me so hard because I had been guilty of that lately.  Because of my husband’s busy schedule as well as my own, time to spend together had been “hit and miss” for the past few weeks.  I was home when he was gone and then I was gone when he was home.  He was out late with classes and I was up early working.  I was asleep the minute my head hit the pillow and he was sleeping in the morning when I tiptoed out of bed.  When we did have some time together, it was taken over by three children who were also feeling a tad neglected and weren’t as polite as we were about waiting their turn.

Her post spoke to me in two ways:  The first was, when addressing issues in your marriage relationship, it’s healthy to acknowledge your needs and set appropriate boundaries so that those needs will be met.  She had waited two weeks for him to wake up from his injuries and needed her husband’s words.  As a wife, that’s not selfish but self preserving.

As married couples, we need to guard our relationships above all else, second only to our relationship with God.  Jobs, children, extra activities and other commitments all need to come second when nurturing our marriage.  Practically speaking, you may have to take care of some of the other commitments first (such as making sure your children’s needs are met before focusing on your spouse), but once they are fed and properly supervised (if young) or occupied (if older), hold that time with your spouse sacred.

Second, it’s so important to spend time filling each other up with words, time, and/or shared interests.  Sometimes for a short while, we have to give others more words than our spouse, but overall, we should be seeking to give the love of our life and our best friend the majority of our words in the form of time, physical touch, and attention.  Once we have filled each other up, then it is easier to go out and fulfill the purpose that God has for us individually because we have an abundance to give.  Sometimes it means letting the dirty house go another day (or enlisting the kids to clean it up) or leaving work early so that you can make each other a priority again or keep your marriage a priority.

As a side note, my husband and I soon rectified the shortage of “his words” that I was feeling. We took some time, away from the kids, work, and responsibilities and just caught up with each other.  I don’t like when life interferes to that extent, but I’m so grateful that I have a man who recognizes when that happens, drops everything, and makes me a priority.

Let’s not wait until it’s too late and our words are taken away to show our spouses that they are our first priority in life.  As I think Stephanie would agree, just as September 14th started out as an ordinary day for their family, the important relationships in our life are too precious to be taken for granted.

I asked permission to request prayer for Matthew, Stephanie, and their two children as they walk this very difficult journey.  They are Christ followers who are relying on His strength to carry them through the months and years of his recovery process.  They continue to give God all the glory for Matthew’s remarkable progress so far as well as the fact that he is still with them today.  If you feel led, I am thanking you ahead of time for joining alongside me in prayer for this wonderful family.

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It’s A Date

I John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (NIV)

Imagine your husband coming up to you, with flowers, after a really long, stressful week.  He asks you to go out to dinner with him at the fancy restaurant across town.  He lined up a babysitter and called ahead for reservations.

Instead of being excited, all you can think about is how you have nothing pretty to wear that fits and even though he was nice enough to arrange the babysitter, you still have to feed the kids, give them baths, and help them with their homework before even thinking about getting ready.  Not to mention the fact that you were planning on tackling the huge pile of laundry since you are down to your last clean pair of underwear and there is a nasty smell coming from behind the couch that needs to be investigated.  Lastly, the deadline for your work project is Monday and you are only one-third of the way finished.

Instead of welcoming the time alone with your husband, relaxing together, enjoying his company and remembering why you two fell in love, you brush him off with a half-hearted promise of, “Maybe next time…”

Sometimes, I think that’s how God feels about how we treat Him.  He presents us with beautiful flowers in the summer, changing leaves in the fall, bright red cardinals against a backdrop of a winter wonderland, and multiple shades of green in the springtime.  Let’s not forget that every day he shows his beauty in a different colored sunrise and sunset simply for our enjoyment.  He puts people in our lives that enrich us, gives us inspiration, hope, or encouragement at just the right moment through songs and/or friendship, and allows us simple pleasures such as flavored coffee, thick socks, or activities that we enjoy.

How many times, despite God standing there with the beautiful bouquet of flowers in His hands, do we dismiss our time with Him, giving instead a half-hearted, “Maybe tomorrow, Lord, don’t you see how much I have to do today?”

That truth hit me hard this morning.  As I have said previously, God is a gentleman and will never force Himself or a relationship on me (or anyone else).  He waits patiently until I choose to come to Him, seeking that relationship that He has been waiting to share with me.  So, why then, as a Christ follower, do I choose to ignore the One who is the source of my strength, my comfort, my hope, and my encouragement and instead turn to the extra hour of sleep, another rerun on TV, or the all-important meeting, committee, or shopping spree?

The answer isn’t about what can (and will) God do for me if I make Him the priority in my day.  Yes, He will bless me with more time, more energy, more strength, more compassion, and better priorities the more time I spend with Him, the more I get to know His heart, and the more I become like Him, but it’s about so much more than that.

It’s about my relationship with the One, true God of this Universe.  I want to give Him my undivided attention, to focus on what He wants me to learn, to obey Him because I love Him and want to be more like Him (not just to follow a bunch of rules), and to show Him with my actions and my words that He is the most important priority in my life.

Just as I don’t want to brush off my husband when he presents flowers and offers me a chance to be wined, dined, and really focused on; I want to give God special time even more.  Lastly, as in the above example, my marriage wouldn’t be headed for divorce court if I refused to go out to dinner with my husband; but I sure would miss out on a chance to connect at a deeper, more meaningful level and in essence, would be responsible for us both suffering as a result.

The same is true in my relationship with God.  If I have prayed the sinner’s prayer and genuinely asked Jesus into my heart to be my Lord and Savior, then I have the assurance of salvation.  Nothing can take that away.  However, if I don’t make it a habit to sit regularly and read the Bible to find out God’s opinions about how He wants me to live, if I don’t pour out my heart to God about the cares and concerns in my life, and I fail to sit quietly and listen to what He wants to tell me, then I am missing out on the experience of having a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the One who created everything.  God has promised us in His word an abundant life, but He will not force it on us.  We have to desire it, claim it, and thank God for the promise of it.

Where are you today?  Have you made the first and most important decision – To admit that you are a sinner and need God to come into your heart and change your life, offering you the assurance of spending eternity in Heaven with Him?  What about if you have that assurance – then what?  How would you rate the deepness of your relationship with your Savior?  Are you casual acquaintances, weekend buddies, or intimate friends?  God is always available, waiting patiently.  It’s up to you to determine how close of a connection you want to make with Him.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with my Friend, and I don’t want to keep Him waiting.  I can’t wait to see what He has planned for me today.

 

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Gentle Strength

James 3:17: “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings,…” (The Message).

I read a terrific Amish Christian fiction book, Living in Harmony, by Mary Ellis.  In the story, there was a secondary character, Thomas, who was one of the ministers of the district.  I’m not sure how familiar you are with Amish fiction, but usually the ministers (not always, of course) are depicted as stern, rigid, strict, and just not very fun to be around.  Thomas, on the other hand, was the complete opposite.  He had a gentle strength about him that led his family, his congregation, and those whom he was privileged to influence, with gentleness first, compassion, and lots of patience.

I found myself thinking a lot about this secondary character and wondering why I was drawn to him.  Then I realized that even though he was a fictitious character, I was married to my real-life hero.  My husband has the same characteristics that this character in Living in Harmony had.

One particular example of his endless patience is as follows.  When people get married, each spouse has certain preferences for the way things are done.  Some of the preferences help the environment or help make the household run more smoothly while others are just good ideas.  My husband lovingly asked me early on in our marriage if I would please tear boxes apart before throwing them away.  He was referring to Kleenex, cereal boxes, or any type of cardboard, so that it was more compact in the bag and therefore less waste.  It sounded like a reasonable request, and certainly would help us use less garbage bags.  However, I was lousy at remembering.  Even though I would readily agree on Monday, by Thursday I didn’t remember and would fall back on my previous habits while multitasking and trying to get things straightened up.  Every few weeks or so, my husband would gently ask me again if I would try to remember to unfold the cardboard to make the garbage more efficient.  It probably took five years or so of his gentle reminders before it became a habit for me as well.  Fast forward thirteen years from his first request, and I find myself asking our children to please unfold the cardboard to help compact our garbage.  Each time I do that, I’m reminded of the loving way that my husband led first me, and now our children as well.  By him taking the approach of patience and gentleness, it actually made me want to take his suggestions instead of resisting him or demanding that my way was better.

My husband leads our family with a quiet, gentle strength.  He seeks God’s will for our family and has our best interests in mind.  He doesn’t force change.  Instead, he quietly and gently points out the right direction while providing endless opportunities for practice, with more patience than we deserve.

I sat back a few weekends ago and just watched my husband in action with our kids.  We have three unique children in different stages of life.  Our oldest is in middle school and loves hanging out with his dad.  He is at the place where he would rather be doing men’s work than inside helping me.  I love to watch through the window while they bond.  They may not talk in depth about life’s hard subjects, but our oldest is picking up on the way his dad thinks about life, approaches hard work, and pays attention to doing his best.  This is his opportunity to positively influence our son without hours of lectures or, “Do it my way.”  He uses a balance of quiet instruction along with lots of praise while they complete projects together.  He also is wise enough to know that there is more than one way to accomplish the same goal, and allowing our son his own unique spin to a chore or project is just as important as the project itself.  I love seeing how our oldest is growing in his self confidence as he sees positive results from their hard labor.

Our daughter is more relationship oriented and it was really fun to watch how she monopolized her dad’s time while we were enjoying some family togetherness.  She wouldn’t let go of his hand and sat as close to him as possible all weekend.  The gentleness he showed to her, the genuine interest in what she finds enjoyable to talk about, and the fun, teasing way he gets life lessons across to her warm my heart.  Nothing makes me fall more deeply in love with my husband than seeing the solid foundation he is providing for our daughter.  The example for how her future mate should treat her is shown best through how her daddy treats her first.

Our youngest, at three years old, has already begun the process of breaking away from his mom and wanting to be part of the “men.”  Just this week our littlest decided to test his boundaries.  After uttering a phrase of disrespect directed right at me, before I could even figure out a response, his daddy picked him up, took him into another room to address the issue in private, and after quite some time, they reemerged with our littlest offering me an apology.  Not only did Bill show all our children that day that respecting their mother was a top priority, but he did it in such a way that our three-year-old’s emotional needs were left intact.  He wasn’t humiliated, but instead lovingly corrected in private, and given a chance to try again, and again, and again as he didn’t quite learn the first time.  His daddy took each opportunity that night to continue to reinforce the line of respect while lovingly keeping intact the emotional bond that they share.

I have talked many times before about how easy my husband makes it for me to follow his lead.  I’m grateful for his example because he pushes me, not with words, but through his quiet strength, to be a better parent as well.  Even when I’m having “one of those days” where I wouldn’t be nominated for “Mother of the Year,” instead of pointing out how badly I blew it, he usually has words of comfort for me that go more like, “Yeah, you probably could have chosen a different way to handle that.”  He then is willing to talk with me about how we can approach the same issue differently the next time, hopefully with better results.  He is also quick to point out when he makes a mistake and is willing to brainstorm with me so that we can provide a united front to our kids, hopefully getting better each time.

What about your family?  Do either you or your spouse possess a gentle strength that is so vital to your kids’ emerging independence while building them up emotionally and spiritually?  If not, what is one positive change you can take to help achieve that goal in your household?

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