Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Laws and Love

1 John 5:2-4 says, "This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith."

This is love for God, to keep his commands. 

I'm always surprised by people who profess to love God but have a "Live and Let Live" outlook on life. There are two reasons that I can't get on board with this attitude, despite it's popularity in today's church culture. 

1. If I truly believe the Bible, then I believe Jesus is the only way to eternal life and salvation. Therefore, I must act and speak into the unbeliever's life if I wish for them to attain and gain that same saving power.  

Last week, I was listening to talk radio and the host mentioned that he was a Christian but that he didn't care if you were a Buddhist, Atheist, etc. I understand that his point was that we are all deserving of the same rights as Americans, that all people are to be treated the same. But, my problem is with the words he chose. I specifically remember that he said, "I don't care." 

If he's a Christian, he should care. If he believes in the very real eternal existence in Hell, he should care. You should care. I should care. And we should all be willing to lose face in this life, if it means bringing someone with us to the next. 

I want to take as many people to Heaven with me as I can. And I shudder to think what God might say if He asks why I didn't reach out to more people and my only answer is, "I didn't want to hurt their feelings or risk looking closed-minded."

There is a second reason why I disagree with adopting a "Live and Let Live" philosophy. 

2. If I love God, I love his laws. And therefore, any law-breaking behavior is disdainful and heart breaking. It's true that I can't expect unbelievers to have any interest in the laws that God has given His followers. (After all, how can I expect them to follow the Ten Commandments to the letter, when I have the help of the Holy Spirit and still fail daily?) But that doesn't mean that I have to sit back and, under the guise of 'loving my neighbor,' let God's design for the world be further tarnished. 

Loving God but not his laws is akin to being married and flaunting disrespect for your vows. It's like the man who is having an affair and still professing to love his wife. Sure, it can happen, but rarely without severe consequences or complete ruination of the relationship. There's only so long that we can disobey commandments or espouse "interpretations" of them that allow more wiggle room, before our relationship with God is weakened. 

And just like we might lose respect for the philandering husband, so should the world lose respect for us when we declare love for God but choose to ignore his laws.

read recently that an open mind very often means a closed Bible. And I agree. We shouldn't be scared of the world or worry how it will perceive us. Indeed, 1 John 5:4 above says that we will overcome the world in victory!

***If you've never seen the Atheist, magician Penn Jillette's commentary on witnessing (he uses the big word, 'proselytize') I recommend it to you now. Even if you've seen it before, it's worth a few minutes to watch it again. Click HERE.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jesus Proof

I am a wife, mom, daughter, grand-daughter, niece, aunt, sister, and friend.
I love to read Gone With The Wind once a year.
I love to dance and I own up to the fact that I don't do it well.
I could eat only Mexican food for the rest of my life.
I love all things in this world best when they come in written form. Novels, love letters, anything having to do with pen and paper, computer and keyboard.

But those are just bits and pieces of me. If you ask me who I am, I will answer every time:
I am a follower of Christ.

And I can sum up my reasoning and prove to you that He's real, too. With just one simple scripture. You don't have to believe the Bible is true to try this out. You've got nothing to lose by exploring this one scripture and seeing if it applies to you.

In the New Testament of the Bible, you'll find the book of Philippians. What you're looking for is chapter 4 and verse 7. It goes like this:

"And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Peace is a rare commodity today. But I've been in heart-wrenching, despairing situations and I've applied this verse and I've found pure, inexplicable peace even in the midst of my world falling apart.

The reason I believe in Jesus is because He's brought me this amazing peace that really does surpass my understanding.

The first time I experienced this strange, inexplicable peace was when I was 18. My parents separated, my grandfather passed away from cancer, and my best friend of more than a decade, well, ceased to be my best friend anymore. I fell into a deep depression. Until I picked up the Bible and read. It didn't matter what I read. Maybe Proverbs, maybe the statistical book of Numbers, anything I read from the Bible would bring me peace. My circumstances hadn't changed. My life was still lonely and I still didn't have any answers. But, I did have miraculous peace. Deep down in my heart. Can't-understand-it-but-surely-can't-deny-it peace.

The second time I put the words of the Bible to the test was in April 2010 when I found a tumor in my left breast. It was very large. It had spread to my lymph nodes. It would require chemotherapy, radiation, and a mandatory and immediate mastectomy.

I had a three-year-old and a one-year-old. As a 28-year-old Stay at Home Mom, I had minimal life insurance and I was at the epicenter of my little boys' lives. I was their whole world. What would happen to them if I died?

These are issues and questions that popped up many times in 2010 and still pop up in weak moments today. And every time, every stinkin' time, that I come to God and plead with Him to show me the truth of His word and the power of His love, He does.

I ask Him, "God, bring me peace, despite these circumstances." And He does. Ours is a broken world of heart-ache, divorce, family estrangements, political uprisings, and heck, even toddler temper tantrums! In this world, those of us who choose to believe can find peace and joy despite our surroundings.

I've got proof.
I've got no doubt that it will work for you, too.

The last two words of that awesome scripture are key, "Christ Jesus."

I don't follow Him blindly. It's my assurance that He's the real thing that allows me to follow Him with abandon.
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Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Husband Who Loves My Heart

Terry has been the best part of my life since January 2001. I've never doubted God's involvement in our relationship. His hand is evident throughout our time together. We weren't always faithful to God when it came to having a marriage or relationship that glorified Him. But we have always strived to, at least, show Him gratitude for our love story, even when we haven't always shown Him perfect obedience.

Our song is, "Feels Like Home." Because from very early on in our relationship there was a comfort that suited us both. We felt like we'd found our home and it's always been a peaceful place. One of the first things I tell people about why I love my husband so much is that he loves my heart. From the first day of our relationship, I wasn't self conscious being around him without makeup. In fact, his love and attention led me to adopt a t-shirt and jeans wardrobe throughout college. He never cared how I looked.  He just cared about me.

And now, having gone through a disfiguring disease like breast cancer and operation after operation, I can see how those early days might have been God laying the groundwork for things to come. If I didn't have complete faith that my husband wasn't judgmental about my appearance, I wouldn't have been able to be as unaffected after my mastectomies or when I was bald. Oh, how my world might have crumbled even more if I'd felt negativity from Terry during that time. And even now, as I sit all wrapped up and bandaged from yet another reconstructive operation, I don't doubt that he won't be there to change the gauze or wash my hair when I can't lift my arms.

This husband of mine, he's authentic. Genuine. Doesn't know how to fake it.

It is my greatest hope for my sons, after accepting salvation through Christ, that they'll someday be this kind of husband to two very lucky women.

And it's my prayer for this next generation of women, my nieces and the daughter's of my friends, that they live in a world where fashion and fitness are only hobbies and not seen as requirements for success or love. It's my prayer that Christians can bypass the beauty standards of the world and leave the vanity behind.  
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Friday, June 22, 2012

God Pulls a "Gideon"

I have been writing my prayers down for about 2 years now. It's a practice I abandoned after college graduation when life got busier. I don't remember why exactly I picked it up again, but I do know it's done wonders for me. I used to write everything long-hand in a journal. Until my arm went numb and, out of necessity, I graduated to Microsoft Word.

Having a written record of my prayer life is a fascinating thing. I can go back and physically high-light prayers that were answered. I can see the hand of God in a very real sense when I go back and explore my private prayers.

During this time I've come to have a deeper understanding of how God designed prayer to work. About three weeks ago I felt God urging me to pray about something very specific. Something that, to my unseeing eyes, seemed very unlikely and slightly impractical. After getting over those first few inklings of "Did God really say this?" I decided there was no harm in telling God that I thought He was requesting me to pray for something and that if it was His will, that I indeed, would pray for it.

So I told my husband about my challenge to pray everyday for a month for this specific request. I wanted some accountability, so I shared my desires with him. Last night, three weeks into my prayer challenge, I prayed to God about how the likelihood of my request seemed even less plausible than ever. I prayed that I would understand why He'd laid this desire on my heart if it was so unfathomable. It felt so very far out of reach.

I closed my laptop and walked to my kids' bedroom where we went though their daily bedtime routine together. First on the agenda, reading a book. Micah chose his kid's Bible and said he'd been trying to read a story but was having trouble with one of the main words. He showed me the page and I read, "God Helps Gideon." I racked my feeble memory... which one was Gideon?

We didn't get too far into the story before I was smiling about the genius of my God. He would answer my question through my child's Bible story book! He connected the dots for me as I read about Gideon.

Gideon has a big army to fight the Midianites (Judges 7) and God tells him he has to send home some of the soldiers. Once his army is cut significantly in number, God tells him to send home all but 300 men. God says he did this so that Israel could not boast that their own strength had saved them.

In other words, God took a difficult situation and made the odds even worse. If Las Vegas betting lines had been open back then, everyone would have put their money on the Midianites. I recognized my own story in Gideon's. I was praying for something that had no earthly reason to happen. But it was suddenly clear to me, if this God-given prayer request does come to fruition, there will be no one to take the glory except God himself.

When all things point to "no," and God still manufactures a resounding "YES," we can be humbled and awe-struck by the deftness of His might!

He doesn't need the circumstances to be favorable. He doesn't need the right political environment. He doesn't need your help, or mine. He definitely doesn't need my pleas and prayers to make it happen. But He must long for us to join Him in a petition that He, himself put on our hearts.

Isn't that a beautiful pattern of prayer? We can say, "God, what would you have me pray for?" And He'll meld our hearts to passionately crave those same things He has already destined. And then when we come to Him and ask for those things, we've come full circle. The desires of our heart have indeed become the desires of His. And no one gets the glory but Him!

During a brief online research about dear, old Gideon, I came across a guy who penned an expression that I've adopted in the title of this post. He says that sometimes God pulls a "Gideon!"

Have you seen an unlikely outcome become a real thing in the hands of God?
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Friday, June 8, 2012

What You and I Can Learn From Sister Wives

That's right. There's something to be learned from Sister Wives, the TLC show about a Polygamist family (they call themselves Plygs), currently in it's third season.

After giving up cable for nearly three months, my husband decided last week that it was time to call Direct TV. He was a victim of marketing when he subscribed during a trial period that now allows us (him) to watch every single NFL game of the season.

While I wasn't very (at all) excited about this primo NFL package, I was supremely happy this morning when my own voyeuristic side was re-awakened by the oddity that is reality tv. The mild headache I'd had last night got out of bed this morning as a full-on migraine and so I plopped on the couch and begged the boys to keep it down. And then I reached for the remote and plunged back into the world of Sister Wives (3 episodes in a row!). Ah, how I'd missed it!

I think my fascination with all reality tv is, at core, the same reason I chose to minor in Sociology. I like to see how people live. This desire is what had me perched at my mom's side during play dates instead of playing with my friends. I preferred to listen to mom and her friends chat about the life I would eventually take as my own (that of a Stay at Home Mom). I like personal details and specifics. From the mundane stuff like how often a person vacuums to the bigger issues like raising kids, 401ks, and in-law relationships.

If you haven't seen Sister Wives, you'll just have to trust me that it is a fascinating look into the lives of oh, about 17 kids, one dad, and four wives. And in the vein of searching for truth, I should say that these people not only claim a love for Jesus Christ and his teachings (they are a part of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints or FLDS) but also say that their preferred form of marriage actually makes them better people, closer to God.

After getting caught up on the current season, I'm convinced The Sister Wives have at least two lessons to teach us, mainstream Christians:

1. They whole-heartedly believe that the Bible promotes Polygamy. Which is, to put it mildly, not something I find when I read the Bible. Keeping in mind that they read from The Book of Mormon, too, what I've learned from this well-intentioned family is to always question my reasons for my own beliefs. There's a lot of talk in my generation of the Church lately. Talk about our "Grandfather's religion." The idea is that adopting your Grandpa or Grandma or neighbor's religion as fact without examining it is not good enough. Do you believe what you believe because you've looked into it, prayed about it, and researched it? Or do you believe things are this way or that way simply because, well, someone you trust said so.

Psalm 119:130 says, "The unfolding of your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple." In other words, reading the Bible will shine light on the answers we seek. There are many concepts and ideas expressed in the Bible that can require a lot of reading and praying to understand. But this verse tells us that the understanding will eventually come.

There's no verse that says "Thou shalt not enter into a polygamous relationship."Yet, our reading of the Bible should shed light on the issue. When God taught us about marriage by creating the very first one, He gave us one man and one wife and declared that together they were one. One. Implying whole. Not two-thirds or .75 with a little room to spare should you desire to seek another wife. One. Complete.

Do you know what the Bible says about marriage? Salvation? Baptism? Do you really know or are you adopting and espousing someone else's convictions?

2. There is one trait in particular that I truly admire about the four wives who make up the Brown Family. If you watch the opening credits for the show, Meri, the first wife, says she believes in this lifestyle because it makes everyone better. It is my own opinion, after watching the shows, that each wife feels that this is the case. That by sharing a husband they become more selfless. While I don't agree with their methods of gaining this selflessness, I think we can all learn from their intense motivation to learn to put themselves last and others first. They also use their marriage as a means to work on their jealousy (which was magnified big time when the last wife joined the family).

I don't know of any other reality television show that has so piqued my interest. (Unless maybe it's that other Christian group from Great Britain. The gypsies in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding who have an interesting interpretation of modesty.) But I do know that I can't depend on a video crew to film my every move and point out my own sin or misinterpretations of scripture. That's something that will have to be between me and the Holy Spirit. "Sinless and Selfless" is the goal. I'll never attain perfection, but with some introspective channel surfing, maybe I can get a little closer!

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Waiting When We Don't Want To

My best friend invited me and my young boys on a hike last week. She provided each child, her two pre-school-aged girls and my two pre-school-aged boys, with a jar to fill with whatever struck their fancy as we walked the trails. 

Unfortunately, and despite a heavy hand with the bug spray, we were attacked by swarming mosquitoes as soon as we were out of the car. Really, the attack started as soon as we opened the car doors. The little pests flew into my car within seconds and I was still shooing them out of my window while driving days later. 

But, we were determined to trudge along and enjoy the path. So we walked, swiping at ourselves and our kids as we went. It wasn't long before the children were hurting and itching so much that we had to put an end to our hike. Just 10 minutes after we'd begun!

Everyone was on board except my youngest, Caleb. He was insistent that we stick it out and follow the path. After all, he hadn't even filled his jar half-way! 

He was willing to ignore the bites he was covered with and stick it out. Perhaps to see what would come 'round the bend. Perhaps to catch more bugs. Maybe just because my little guy loves to explore. Whatever the reason, he threw a fit and as the rest of our troop ran to the safety of the car, I ended up having to pitch Caleb over my shoulder and carry him back!

I thought about our little walk of horrors today as I read Isaiah 26:8. 
"In the path of your judgements, 
O Lord, we wait for you; 
your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul."

In the path of your judgements. 

The image that brings to mind is one worth contemplating. Much like in the picture above, when I hear the word, "path" I picture a trail with a definite beginning and end. If you're on the path, you're heading to where it leads. When you follow the path, you're at it's mercy. Another version calls it "walking in the way." To me, it implies action. Almost like I can imagine the moving sidewalks at the airport being our path or our way. We hop on one and we're ready to go where it takes us. When we get on a moving sidewalk we have every expectation that it will lead us to an end. Whether the route is scenic or not isn't up to us. It's been predetermined by the architects who built the path and the airport. We have just one expectation: take me from point A to point B. 

And so here we are on the great journey of life (if you'll allow me such cheesy symbolism) and we choose our path and, well, there we are. "Giddyup!," we might say. Or "Git er done," for the less couth crowd. And so what does it mean for us, as followers of Christ, that Isaiah says once we're on the path we should... WAIT

As humans, we are naturally curious. Why else would Adam and Eve have tried the one and only forbidden fruit that existed in their world? They wanted to see what would happen. Have you ever made a decision that you knew was unwise or hasty? And after you made it you felt a bit of contentment or excitement despite the possible error in judgement? Maybe you thought that even if it turned out that you'd made a wrong call, at the very least you'd get to see how the story would unfold. 

I think it's that curious drive in us that keeps us barreling down the path at break-neck speed. Maybe we've encountered some problems lately. Maybe our spiritual walk is lagging. Maybe our marriage is on bumpy ground. And we decide to put our heads down and push through. We keep trudging along thinking, "If I can just get around this bend... If I can just get to the end of this path, I'll be alright." 

It takes more strength to stop amidst a difficult situation than it does to ignore the circumstances and bullheadedly walk on. When the mosquitoes come out in full force, when the air gets thick with their buzzing and your legs sting from their bites, what will you do? Will you bow your head and tell God that you'll wait? 

He designed your path and He knows what lies up ahead. Checking in with Him for directions is the wisest move we can make. But it isn't the move of the impulsive and it isn't the move of the proud. It is a move of faith. "I will stop moving," we have to say. "I will wait on the path."

Later in the book of Isaiah, the prophet goes on to say this in the last verse of chapter 40: 
"...But they that wait for the Lord,
shall renew their strength.
They shall mount up with wings like eagles.
They shall run and not be weary.
They shall walk and not faint."

See that? If we pause in the middle of the mosquitoes and wait long enough to hear from God, we won't just be walking on the path anymore. Our God-given "wings like eagles" will carry us through and fly us over. What a sight we'll see when we follow the path as God intended it!

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How Bad Can I Be?

"How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
I'm just doing what comes naturally.
How ba-a-a-ad can I be?
I'm just following my destiny."

Last night I visited the Dollar Cinema with my oldest son, Micah. Due to our frugality, we see children's movies about 2 months after the rest of the country. Last night we saw The Lorax. The original book about the Once-ler and the Lorax is an encouraging one. It teaches the value of taking care of the earth and it reminds us that greed is bad and that our actions have consequences on others.

Nevertheless, I've seen Hollywood destroy more than a few children's tales, so I approached this brightly-colored film with the same trepidation that exists any time I expose my kids to any media.

In a world where "sinful" has become a playful description and can be found to describe food, makeup, perfume, and underwear (are there any men's items that are marketed as sinful?) I was surprised to see, at least in theory, a song that went to the very core of human nature and our fall into the arms of sin.

The Once-ler, who has broken a promise to the Lorax and has begun cutting down more truffula trees, tries to reason that he's not really that bad of a guy because he is just doing what comes naturally. (Listen to the whole song, here.)

Isaiah 64:6 says, "We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep away like the wind."

Left to our own devices, left to follow our own natural inclinations, we will do just what the Once-ler did. We'll give in to greed, selfishness, broken promises, and sin.

Sin is an ugly word. But the Church shouldn't treat it like a dirty word. It's ok to say it. It's ok to talk about it. And, if we follow Luke 17:3, there are even times when we're encouraged to talk with another Christian about their own sin. "So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them. And if they repent, forgive them."

I'm weary of my kids growing up in the current culture where it's popular belief that whatever you're inclination is must be the right thing for you. If you listen to what's happening in America you'll hear about "my truth" and "your truth." I am not ashamed of the Gospel and I cannot be afraid to say that I believe there is only one truth and it's HIS. And despite Lady Gaga singing about "capital H-I-M," her theory that we're perfect because we're born this way is not one I want my kids to subscribe to.

And just like the Once-ler, who really was doing a bad thing, finds salvation when the Lorax descends from the skies in a glittery shaft of light, we too, who are consumed with our own bad things, have a way out.

1 Corinthians 15:57. "But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord, Jesus Christ."

I loved that the Once-ler's song was such a good jumping off point for a meaningful conversation on the way home with Micah. I hope to teach him that everyone sins and that acknowledging our own sin is not the equivalent of self-hate. But that, instead, it's actually what a loving God calls us to do. We can't appreciate the perfection of our God without first acknowledging our own imperfections.

You can appreciate the Once-lers song for yourself. It's still in theaters... well, one theater, at least.

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