Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Bible Is Not Just Words of Encouragement

I saw a rather alarming claim on Facebook this week. Someone said that "the Bible was supposed to be words of encouragement." What they went on to say was that people shouldn't tell them what the Bible said was right and wrong because GOD LOVES EVERYBODY. Because we can't know what God wants from us. 

Do these people read the Bible? 

Of course God loves everyone. God doesn't approve of everything those people do. Actually God hates quite a few things. And He tells us what they are; He's not trying to be a mystery.

What part of the Bible do they read to be words of encouragement? The part where Jesus says we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily? (Luke 9:23) The part where it states we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God? (Rom. 3:23) There is nothing in the Bible to make us feel good about ourselves because it's not there to exalt us, it's there to exalt Christ. We aren't supposed to feel good about ourselves when we read the Bible.

Of course the promises of the Bible are comforting; but they are based on God's character, not our own. And there are some powerful verses that you can grab a hold of to encourage yourself in life but usually the mantras are used out of context (think Philippians 4:13).

The Bible tell us what its purpose is. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." 

It does not say that all scripture is designed to make us feel good about ourselves and validate whatever choices we feel like making. It never says that. 

Of course God loves us (John 3:16). There is forgiveness for our sins (1 John 1:9). But there is sin; everything is not ok. It tells that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9). Don't even get me started on the Christians who say to follow your heart; that's the stupidest advice I've ever heard. We are to keep our heart (Proverb 4:23). We are to rule our spirits (Proverbs 25:28). 

The Bible is not a feel-good book. That's not the purpose of the Bible. 
-doctrine- what we believe. We are supposed to determine what we believe based on what the Bible says.
-reproof- censure for a fault. The Bible tells us when we mess up. 
-correction- like a course correction. The Bible brings us back in line with the truth.
-instruction in righteousness- personal instructor. The Bible teaches us the right way.

None of that particularly sounds encouraging to me. Instead I see a lot of "the Bible is going to tell me where I'm wrong." My ways aren't God's ways so it stands to reason that I'm going to need corrected a lot. That's not inspiring to me but it is necessary. If I go my own way I make a mockery of what Christianity is supposed to be. If I go my own way I represent Christ poorly to the world. 

We need to get rid of this notion that the Bible is a happy book designed to make us think happy thoughts about ourselves and others. Hebrews 4:12 has this to say about the Bible, "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asuder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

The Bible is supposed to pierce us and show us our sin. So yes, it's fine to state that sins are sins. It should be done in love but it should still be done. Don't use the Bible as an excuse to allow anything you want. Read it and see what it actually says. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It's Not the Thought That Counts

One day last week Kevin woke up from his nap and I carried him to the kitchen to snuggle for a bit. He's all cuddly and delicious after he wakes up and that time should not be wasted. In one of the those mom-moments that typically only live in daydreams, Micah walked over and rubbed his head, "I'm so glad I found you, Kevin. I love you; don't ever go away."  Totally adorable, right? Unfortunately that lovely sentiment doesn't keep him from bopping him over the head quite frequently. As I told the story to my husband I commented, "Oh well, it's the thought that counts." But really?  Do I really think that intentions matter more than actions? 

They don't. 

It's not the thought that counts. Actions count a whole lot more. People don't know your thoughts; people see your actions. Forget what you think or what you say, what do you do? Your actions scream who you are. 

I don't care if you think kind thoughts about me. But if you do kind things for me, that's a different story. That's tangible evidence of how you feel about me and it speaks about your character. 

I don't really care if my husband thinks about staying faithful to our marriage. That thought is not enough. His actions are going to speak way louder than his thoughts or intentions. I want him to be faithful to our marriage, to live that out. 

I don't really care if my children intend to be kind to one another. I care greatly about whether or not they are kind to one another. 

Thoughts do count because they are the basis of what we do but the thoughts alone are not enough. 

But to get down to the grit of life, what about me? Where do I have good intentions but no actions? 

Do I have good intentions to bless my husband but I get too busy? 
Do I have good intentions to teach my kids but the Netflix is so absorbing? 
Do I have good intentions to read my Bible but facebook is calling my name? 
Do I have good intentions to exercise but I sit on the couch instead? 

If those good intentions are things I need to be doing it's time to put some actions behind them. It's time to muscle in there with real work instead of happy thoughts. Happy thoughts only get you so far. They put you on the right path but you have to actually get out of the chair and do something sometimes. That's just all there is to it. 

You have to actually do the work. 

1. Find your good intentions.  Are they things you really need to be doing? Maybe you have had good intentions to read through "War and Peace" for years.  Is that really a priority for you? Is this what God wants you to do? Answer that first. If the answer is "no," toss the idea. If the answer is "yes," then get to work. 

2. Make a plan. When are you going to read your Bible or exercise? How are you going to bless your husband? What are you going to teach your kids? Get specific and develop a plan of action to follow. 

3. Execute it. Do the work. Get up off the couch and do some push-ups or some yoga. (And I don't mean corpse pose, people.) Close out of Twitter and read your Bible. 

Good intentions might be a good starting place but they aren't what counts. All the good intentions in the world won't get you the life you want to have lived when you are standing before Jesus. Thoughts must translate into actions. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How's That Working Out for You?

Sometimes I give myself an out when it comes to doing the hard things. Or just things I don't like to do such as getting up earlier.

I say, "That's the way I've always been." 

I say it like it's a reason. A hard-core, this-cannot-be-changed, set-in-stone-for-the-rest-of-my-life absolute fact. But it's just an excuse. 

Here's my new response to myself: "How's that working out for you?" 

Why make that excuse as if I can't change? Like I can't learn new habits. Like God hasn't been transforming me for years. Like that isn't His plan until he takes me home. 

Why not change what I'm doing if something else is better? 

It might be hard. It might be uncomfortable. Other people might think I'm weird. But why should that stop me? 

It shouldn't, of course.  

We do this in all types of situations. We do this at church when the preacher preaches. We do this when we read a book and insist that technique is impossible for us. We do this when a friend challenges our thinking on a subject. 

We don't see that we can change.  Matter of fact, we insist that we can't and we try explain why.

My pastor says that excuses are like feet: everybody has them and they all stink. Excuses don't help you. You should stop with your excuses and ask, "How's that working out for me?" 

Is it working for you? 

-Would another method or a different way work out better for your or your family? 
-Would you benefit from changing? Changing how you talked to your kids? Changing how you planned your menus? Changing how you schedule your day? 
-Would you learn more from reading your Bible or browsing Facebook? 
-Would you be more spiritually inclined if you got rid of some worldly input? 
-Would you be less discouraged if you had that challenging talk with a friend? 
-Would you serve your family better if you got up earlier in the morning? Or didn't waste your whole afternoon? 
-Would you be better off if you started exercising a little four or five days a week? 

How are those excuses working out for you? Do they help your family? Will they help you become the person you want to be at the end of your life? 

Think about where you want to be- who you want to be- on your 80th birthday. Are you becoming that person today? That's how it works you know. Who you are today changes who you are tomorrow which impacts who you are on your 80th birthday. Today is not irrelevant and your excuses do matter. 

Make changes one at a time. Pick something, preferably something small, and change it. Know why you need to do it and then do it. Make the change a habit. Then start on a new one. Don't decide you are too old, too busy, or too static to change. You're not. Face that excuse. Ask  yourself, 

How's that working out for me? 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Evening Dance

Every night my husband and I practice a dance. It's not ballroom dance or anything so elegant as that. It's the dance of getting our children in bed and our nightly ritual started. It's the dance where we sway back and forth, one doing this task and the other the next. The dance where sometimes we both try to lead at the same time and someone gets their toes stepped on. It's a dance that we seem to get better at over the years although from day to day it seems we are just muddling through. We learn by repetition. Doing the same thing over and over every single night. Tucking our babies in safe and protected and loved seems to be a routine that teaches us as much as it means to them. 

We're both tired by then. Me from working with them and the house and anything else all day and him from work and transitioning home. Children are amazingly exhausting. Some days bedtime can't come soon enough and other days we put it off drinking in the joy that small children can exhibit over the smallest thing. 

The best part of the dance comes when we hit our groove. When we each give all instead of holding back because we're tired and we've done it before a million times. The best part is when we both help the other person even if it's the things we prefer not to do. We dance this beautiful routine that others might never notice, not to impress but to serve. The dance of sacrifice, of dying to self. The dance that does all the work some nights because he's still at work or I'm sick. The dance that reminds the partner at home that someone is missing. It's a repeat of all that marriage means in just a brief half hour. 

It's the repeat: the daily done over and over in small ways, in consecrated ways. It's the touch of the hand to the back when you squeeze by each other in the bathroom. It's the question of what they've read that day that they want to discuss and then the eye roll because no one can actually hear over the water and the play and the childish conversations carried on at full volume. It's the promise of being alone in just a few minutes in peace and quiet. It's the prayer for patience for yourself and the other for the time needed to put them in bed. 

Jesus is in this dance, this daily melding of a marriage. It takes more than our hearts contain to learn these steps. This making of two souls into one seems best formed when doing the repeated work. Dates and trips and getaways are nice but they can't sustain the weight of life. Only the giving of self to another in the moments of work and frustration can do that. The moments of not repeating the petty annoyances because it will only burden the other person. The moments of seeing the need and filling it even though you would rather be served. 

That dance builds a marriage, little by little, every day.  We get to practice it every night. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Don't Wait for the Big Moments, Live Now

Sometimes its easy for me to look forward to the "big" thing in my day. Whether it's a doctor's appointment or piano lessons or a church it's easy to esteem those activities as more valuable than cleaning the kitchen, making bread, or reading books with little boys. Of course they aren't but it's easy to perceive it that way. 

I've been trying to focus on what's right before me. Proverbs 17:24 states, "Wisdom is before him that hath understanding; but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth." I want to pay attention to what's going on right here. Not what someone else is doing or what I wish I were doing. What's here under my nose. 

I find when I'm focused on one big thing several things happen. 

1. I'm discontent with now.  I'm waiting for the next "thing" instead of being content where I am with what I'm doing. I don't see the value of the present work. 
2. I'm not living presently.  I'm distracted by thoughts of the future instead of putting my mind and hands to work for me where I am now, whether it's lunchtime, writing, or homeschooling. 
3. I get disappointed easily. Sometimes the big things don't happen or they don't live up to my expectations. Ever experienced that? 

What if I focus on now? What if I look at the work in front of me and even if it's "routine" or "mundane" I do with all the excellence I have? Colossians 3:23 says, "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;"

What if I care for our home with excellence, whether it's cleaning or laundry or teaching the boys to pick up toys? It's part of my work: I am to make a place for my people. 

What if I teach and love our kids with excellence? If I persevere through discipline with a good attitude? If I go over the letter sounds again and again until they get them? If I hug those boys tight before bed even when I'm tired?  The time is limited. 

What if I pursue my husband with excellence? If I tried to be the wife that he needs? If I pursued time and passion and friendship with him? My marriage shows Christ. 

What if I tackle my work with excellence? Practicing piano, editing blog posts, updating the budget, even sketching? If I did those things to the best of my ability, building skill upon skill until I could do them better and God could use them for His glory? I don't know what the future holds. 

Wouldn't those things be a worthwhile use of my time? They may not seem exciting now. G arpeggios, repetitions of "you may not hit your brother," and another load of laundry may seem dull and tedious now but they are also beneficial. They are accomplishing worthwhile things for my family and myself. They are forming character and skills in myself and my kids. They are building a foundation to serve on for the rest of my life. They are creating the life of my family. 

So live where you are. Tackle the work right in front of you with excellence. Don't believe the lies that it doesn't matter, that you should wait for big things. You shouldn't. You should devote the same energy and skill to caring for your family and home or to filing those papers that you would to performing in front of thousands. Because no matter what we do, it's all for One. And He sees it all. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How Truth Is Important in Friendships

I had a phone conversation with a friend a few weeks ago. (I do occasionally talk on the phone even though it's one of my least favorite things.) This friend has three kids six and under and one on the way. She confessed, somewhat timidly, that she needed some time out of the house. She's there constantly: homeschooling, working for church, supporting her husband and she needs some breathing space. I replied, "I was there six, nine months ago." I think she was relieved. Relieved that it wasn't just her. Relieved that she wasn't a bad person, a bad Christian, a bad mom, a bad wife. (Now of course life for Christ means sacrifice. I don't mean that  you go around focused on you. But we can do a few things to stay sane.)

That conversation made me realize how important "me too" can be in relationships, in friendships, in real life. 

Saying "me too" may mean speaking the truth even when it's not pretty. There's nothing to be gained from trying to present yourself as perfect. It's not true and it discourages the people around you. They think "nobody else is struggling with this; there must be something wrong with me." That's not true. Maybe you haven't had the same problem that someone is entrusting you with but surely you can somehow empathize?

You can ask questions to draw them out, maybe even allow them to better understand themselves instead of shutting them off. Questions like, "Why do you feel that way?" "When do you feel that way?" "What do you think would help it?" "What does the Bible says about that?" "Have you prayed about it?" God cares about the tiniest detail of our lives and He wants us to bring it to Him (1 Peter 5:7).

I want to be a safe place. I don't want to speak what others have told me. Not behind their backs and not twenty years down the road. I want to rejoice with those that rejoice. I want to grieve with those that grieve. I want to speak the truth in love. I want to serve with compassion. I want to pray with urgency. None of this, "Well, that's just because they are stupid." 

Maybe it was a stupid thing to do. Maybe no one taught them any better. 

A lot of this involves keeping my opinions to myself. So many things don't really matter. That's why I haven't blogged about natural birth (although I'm considering a post). I've had three natural births; I have something to say about them. I've talked to people in person about them when they've asked. But it's not that important. It doesn't matter one hill of beans if you get an epidural or if you end up needing a c-section; you make that choice for your situation. I have my reasons for preferring natural birth and that's all there is to it. 

Being a friend may mean speaking the truth even if it's not the nicest thing to say. Now I'm not condoning being rude but I don't want to be a friend that just agrees to be nice. I think I'm going to quit trying to be nice actually; it's a bad goal. Instead I want to be loyal. I want to be compassionate. I want to be genuine. I want to be enthusiastic. I want to be Biblical. But not nice. 

Nice is too easily twisted into what I think they will like, what they will be impressed by. That's not where I want to operate from; I want to operate from the principles of the Bible and nothing else.  Sometimes that means telling friends things they don't want to hear. Sometimes that means opening up about problems in my own life and not pretending about where I am.  

Friendships are important and I want to do them well. Where does speaking the truth come into play in your friendships? 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How to be Ready for Opportunity

Joseph is one of my favorite Bible characters. What I like most about him is that he was unstoppable. He prospered where ever he was, even in what we would call bad situations, all because God was with him. God was what made the difference. The last time I was reading Joseph's story I was arrested by some thoughts. 

Joseph interpreted the dreams of the butler and baker and asked the butler, who was to be restored to his position, to remember him to Pharaoh. The next thing you read is that "after two full years..." (Genesis 41:1) Two full years. I can imagine how this went. The first day the butler was out Joseph had to be so excited! This was going to be his day. Pharaoh would release him from prison. (I think it's also interesting to note that while Joseph was doing God's will where he was he wanted something different. Our emotions don't have to govern how we live and they don't make us bad even when we would like to change them.)

Back to Joseph, he had to wait expectantly that first day. And the day after and that next week.  He had to think each morning "maybe this will be my day.." But hope would die a slow, painful death. I don't know at what point I would decide that the butler had forgotten me or that no one cared, but I would have gotten there. Joseph must have realized at some point that either the butler forgot him or Pharaoh wasn't releasing him. 

I probably would have questioned God about why He was leaving me in prison even though I was serving Him diligently. Why I had to be wrongfully treated when I had obeyed Him. Of course now we can see that God had a plan. God was going to make him second in the kingdom but Joseph did not know that. 

What if Joseph had quit? What if in those two years He had given up and told God he was done? If he had stopped serving faithfully? He wouldn't have been keeper of the prison for sure. A little further in the chapter you see that he was abruptly called to Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. They just came and yanked him out with no warning. That must have been quite startling for a man who was sure he had been forgotten. But how was Joseph ready for that after years serving with little recognition? 

1. Joseph kept his daily walk with God. He was going to be ask to interpret dreams. Joseph is always careful to give the credit to God when he interprets dreams. That means his relationship with God had to be such that he could call on Him for help at a moment's notice. Can you imagine how different the story would have been if Joseph had stopped serving God and then had been asked to interpret the dreams? He couldn't have. Or at least he would have had to spend time getting right with God first. Life is not something we can do on our own. When God sets an opportunity in front of my face I want to be serving and be ready. 

One of the things I was most glad about when Micah had his crisis was that I was upfront with God. I had been trying to serve Him. I didn't feel like I had tucked God into my back pocket and was calling on Him now that I had an emergency. We don't know what's coming in life; we just know that we will need God. 

2. Joseph was serving. We need to be ready for what God brings our way. Whether your current place is where you dream of being or somewhere you would rather not be, serve. Serve the best you can. Ask God to help you give that place your all. It honors God and it will prepare you for the rest of your life. We cannot walk with God without serving where we are. God transforms us from the inside out when we spent time with Him and obey Him. 

The next thing may not be something "big" to most people. Joseph rose to power seemingly quickly but some of God's people served quietly, unnoticed for all of their lives. But their work was important. Maybe you are preparing yourself for a job change with these two steps. Or getting ready to add a new baby to your family or start serving in a new ministry at church. It might not be something big like going to the mission field or becoming a popular speaker. But if you are walking with God daily and serving where you are, God can keep using you. When we stop obeying, we stifle our usefulness. 

And motherhood note: it's easy to say I'm going to keep serving in these years of raising littles and I'll be ready for the big work. But that's not true. These years of raising littles are the big work. While the work is often routine and repetitive it is holy, sacred, important. This shaping of little souls to be future men and women of God is not a work to be taken lightly or passed off as mundane even if it's unnoticed or unvalued by society. Don't buy into that lie. You are doing the work with those babies. Doing the work for God doesn't mean you'll never be frustrated or question whether you're making a difference. That is just part of life. Mother with your hand in God's.)

Would you be ready if a big opportunity opened up in your path this week? Have you been staying close to God and serving?