Greener Pastures

My dad and my brother still keep cows on the farm that was once my grandparents’. It’s not like a huge Texas herd or anything, but a couple dozen cows is still kind of a deal to deal with. The cows are forever breaking through the fencing and helping themselves to the grass in the neighboring pasture. Last week, Dad told me that, once again, the cows had broken through, and he would have to go repair it.

I said, “I thought you put barbed wire fencing up to keep them from doing that. Isn’t that the point of the barbs? Doesn’t it hurt them to push through that?”

He answered yes to all of that.

When I said I didn’t get why they didn’t just stay in their own pasture, he told me that they get convinced in their cow brains that whatever is on the other side of that fencing is better than what is on their side, and they are willing to endure whatever pain and agony it takes to push through the fencing to get to it.

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Am I about to compare us to cattle?  Yes, I am.

Society drives us to comparison. We stand at our spiritual, moral, and ethical fences looking out at what lies beyond that border and convince ourselves that what sits just beyond our reach is exactly what we need. We consider the conditions on our side of the fence, and they seem to pale in comparison. If we stand there long enough, we begin to debate what it would take to push through that fence.

I could push through this. It will hurt a bit, maybe it will hurt a lot, but the reward when I get to the other side will be worth it. I’m thinking that grass over there? That grass is so much greener than the grass over here. I can almost smell its sweetness. I can nearly feel its texture in my mouth. I can’t even bring myself to think about the grass over here. It’s the same boring grass that’s always been over here. There’s no excitement to this grass, no hope for adventure or newness with it. Do I really have to live with this same old grass for the rest of my days? I deserve that better grass over there.

That fence that was put there to protect us begins to feel a lot like a prison. We get itchy, and we get antsy. And then we get tunnel vision, and one day, we make the decision to go for it. Nothing on our side of the fence matters anymore. Not our marriages, not our families, ministries, or our jobs. We lean in, pressing into the fence, gritting our teeth at the pain of it. We could stop. We could. But we have momentum, and if we stop now we might not start again, so we just keep going. The barbs dig into our flesh, we bleed, we cry, but we push and push until we break through, at last running wild and free into the greener pastures we dreamed of for so long back on our side of the fence. We run, frolic, and eat up all the goodness we can on the other side of the fence. We ignore the pain from pushing through the fence. It doesn’t matter.

Only it does matter. In a short while, it matters a lot. We take a furtive glance back at the destruction we caused when we pushed through the fence. We swallow the grass in our mouths and realize as it slides down to the first of our four stomachs, that it’s pretty much like the grass we had over there, only that grass came without a lot of hurt and pain.

We look around with new eyes at the grass on this side of the fence and see the briars and stickers in the grass growing over here. We couldn’t see those from the protection of our fence. There were definite issues back over there, but there seem to be issues over here, too, now. It’s harder over here, and it’s lonely, too.

The odd thing about my dad’s story is, the cows came back home on their own that time. One by one, they came back through the hole in the fence to their own pasture… acting all casual-like, as if they hadn’t caused all that trouble. That’s okay. They are cows.

We are not cows. We cause a lot of pain for ourselves and for those who love us and depend on us when we choose to push through the fencing. Those guardrails are put there for our protection, and for the preservation of those who love and depend on us. Temptation will always call to us from the other side of the fence. It will always tell us that the grass is greener over there… and it will always lie.

Should I Be Offended?

Should I be offended? It’s a question one of my kids would ask me from time to time. If I had understood completely what I understand now, I would not have needed to know the details of the particular situations. These details would not have mattered, I would have told him without hesitation, “No”.

But what of the details? Maybe the thing that happened was indeed offensive. Maybe my kid would have been completely justified in being offended. I think that is our problem these days. We justify ourselves, but find ourselves offended by others. Social media has become a hotbed of offended people. It is a platform for pontificating about the latest offenses perpetrated against us.

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We operate in a world of offense every day, but I grew up in a time that gave people the benefit of the doubt. We chose to believe the better in someone unless and until they just insisted that we see them for the scoundrel they were. Were we naive? Maybe. But we were happier. We weren’t scouting out our next opportunity to be offended by someone.

Just today, I offended a lady. I was turning into a parking lot of a downtown restaurant and she was waiting to pull out onto the street. I did not have my turn signal on signaling my intent to turn into the restaurant. I know. I’m a horrible person. I’d tell you what she mouthed at me and then signaled to me with her hands, but this is a G-rated blog. I was amused that she was so instantly angered by my failure to signal. My actions had not put her at any risk. I suppose I slowed her progress by a few seconds, but by her reaction one would have thought I had pulled up next her, exited my car, and taken a sledge hammer to hers.

Ephesians, chapter four, tells us:

“In your anger do not sin” : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
and do not give the devil a foothold… Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

So what’s so wrong with being offended? Nothing, really, unless you are a believer in Christ. According to Galations 2:20, it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me. Essentially, I am dead… un-offendable. You cannot offend a dead person. Have you ever tried being un-offendable? It is a challenge in today’s society where offense is encouraged, even celebrated.

What does it mean to be un-offendable? It means you stop holding on to un-forgiveness, even for a moment. The Bible speaks often about forgiveness. It doesn’t ever say that the person who has offended us deserves our forgiveness. But it’s not about that. It’s about opening the door for the enemy to sneak in and begin messing around in our lives. (“Do not give the devil a foothold.” Offense and un-forgiveness give the devil a foothold in our lives.) He loves to come in and stir up our offenses and the un-forgiveness we hold on to.  He pokes at them like we might poke at a fire to keep it going. It’s why we are told again and again and again to forgive others. Sure, forgiveness is good for the offender, but that’s not the real story about forgiveness. We are told to forgive because it shuts the door on the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy us. Offense, un-forgiveness, will burn us from the inside.

Forgiveness means letting go of your grip on the other person’s neck. 

So how do you know if you have truly forgiven someone? How can you be sure you’ve let go of an offense if you have taken one up? Well, you can look at the offender and not think about the thing or things they did that offended you. When you interact with them, or speak of them to others, you don’t bring up the offenses from the past: distant or recent. When you think of them, you no longer calculate plans to let loose the fleas of a thousand camels into their underwear drawer.

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You let it go. Not because they deserve it, although maybe they do. But more importantly, you let it go because in letting it go, you protect yourself from an enemy attack. Try this, just for fun. See how long you can go without taking up an offense… even a small one. Can you go a day, two? Can you? You might be surprised at how often the opportunity arises to take the enemy’s bait.

So I’m Going to Write About Old People

I’d like you to consider how the title of this piece made you feel. Did you think it disrespectful of me to say “old people”? Did you think about just moving on to something else because, who wants to read anything about old people? Maybe you are an old person and feel like you know all you need to know about being old. Well, I am fifty. Some people say fifty is the new thirty, so I’ve got at least four decades until I will be considered old, right?

Not according to my oldest son who asked me when I will start doing “grandmother things”. I wasn’t sure what he meant by “grandmother things” other than his little Italian Greyhound is cold and he would like to have a sweater for it. Maybe he thinks I should knit? (I wanted to say, “When you make me a grandmother”… but his sweet girlfriend was there, and I ‘m trying not to scare her away.)

nick-karvounis-381270We don’t like the thought of getting old in our society. No one looks on the elderly with admiration anymore. At 50, I feel it already from younger people at work and even at church. (Step aside, Mrs. Past-Your-Prime… We’d like to see youth and inexperience lead us forward.) When we were an agrarian society, and our culture was built around the home, generational families depended on the wisdom and experience of their elders. They were held in highest esteem. Now? Now, we have Google. Who needs an elder’s wisdom if you can just watch a YouTube video? You can literally see how to do anything on there. Right about now, we are doubling the knowledge we have about every 12-18 months. Way back when, like a 120 years ago and before, we doubled our human knowledge every 100 years. Amazing.

So where does that leave our elders? In many cases, it leaves them out in the cold. If elders were valued for their wisdom, and now that need is met elsewhere, how do the old folks among us garner value? I mean they are a drain on society, aren’t they? They take up the bulk of the US healthcare dollar, and they are often dependent, frail and needy. Most of them have no idea what a modem, gigabyte, or band width is. (Come to think of it, neither do I.) And have you ever tried to teach an elderly person to use a cell phone or computer? Puh-lease. I have. Can we step into the 21st Century? It’s not rocket science, Grandma. Oh wait. Maybe it is. I mean 150 years ago we didn’t have phone of any kind, and now I can call a friend in Japan and Facetime with them. I mean, if I had a friend in Japan. And in that same 150 years, we have increased the human life expectancy by more than three decades.

All of our efforts toward improved healthcare, diet and exercise have worked! We are living longer! Only we didn’t consider that living longer would not make us young for longer. I makes us old for longer. Curses! We didn’t quite think that one through, did we? And what do we fear almost as much as we fear public speaking? Getting old. Why? Because we know that what we think won’t matter anymore, we won’t look as hot as we do now, and there will be nothing of consequence left for us to do.

But what if that’s not really true? Well, I mean we won’t be as hot as we were… but the rest? Hogwash. Did you know that Grandma Moses started painting at 76? Gladys Burrill ran a marathon at 92. Ouch. Peter Roget invented the Thesaurus at 73. (Thanks, Peter. I mean, with gratitude, Peter.) At 68, Sir William Crookes invented a device for detecting alpha particles. You can Google what those are, but you likely still won’t understand it. Asa Long was 70 when he became the oldest U.S. checkers champion… okay. Bad example. But still. Momofuku Ando invented Ramen noodles in a cup at age 61 and at 22 cents a serving, has saved countless college students from starvation. Ray Kroc created McDonalds at 52, and is now singularly responsible for a nation of fat people. My personal favorite is John Pemberton. He created Coca-Cola at age 55. Praise be to God.

 

 


fabrizio-verrecchia-180329By 2030, there will be more than 70 million people over 65 in our country.  8.5 million of those will be over 85. We might like for old people to fade away, but they aren’t gonna. And let me remind us all, we’re talking about the Baby Boomers. The “me generation”. They are going to speak up and be heard. They are not going to go quietly into the dark night. Move over, youth and vitality. Age and experience is moving in and staking a claim.

We are going to have to do better by our elderly. Why? Because societies are judged by how they treat their children and elderly. Because it is on the shoulders of the elderly that we climb and reach higher and farther. Young people have it so much better than the generations before, but they have shown up late to the party. Old people have striven and survived with fewer conveniences, and pushed through to provide a better way of life. Weak, frail, and dependent? Not so much, really. How about we muster up some respect and honor for our elders. With any luck, we’ll join them one day.

There Are No Bonus Points For Showing Up, Are There?

You don’t get bonus points just for showing up. That is, unless you are in my son’s dual enrollment college psych class. He gets one point added to his grade for every day he decides to drag it in to class. Granted, the class is held at 7am, but bonus points for showing up?

One day last week, he slept through it. I’m not prone to waking him up for stuff. He’s sixteen. He should be able to get up and be to work or school on time without his mom having to wake him up. Life skills. I’m teaching him life skills. Occasionally, I’ll peek in and see that his feet have hit the floor, but mostly that’s on him. So one day last week, he slept through class. Later that day, I asked him if he was counted as absent, or did the professor even take roll. He told me that the professor did take roll, but only because those that show up for class get a bonus point… for showing up. The class meets twice a week so that’s about 32 bonus points a semester just for sitting their rear end in a seat. Why is this okay?

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We gripe and complain about millennials, but they are a monster of our own creating. I know because I have raised four of them, and against all odds, I have tried to break through the mindset that most kids in their generation have. Mindsets that are propagated by professors who do things like reward kids for showing up. Mindsets that are instilled when parents punish teachers for their kid’s bad behavior instead of the kid. Mindsets that take hold when we award kids with trophies and bonus points just for showing up to play or learn or whatever.

When did we start giving rewards for doing what is expected?

I can remember when I was a kid, I got it in my mind that I deserved an allowance for cleaning up my room, helping with the laundry, and other chores around the house my mom told me to do. When I approached my mother with my well-worded argument, she quickly set me straight without missing a beat. She said she would not pay me to do what was expected of me. I think she also asked me if I was out of my mind. Clearly, I was.

Large corporate organizations, for the first time ever, are having its education departments instruct its millennials on things like eye contact, appropriate work attire, and proper professional email communication. Never before have these classes been needed. Never before have young adults entered adulthood so ill-prepared for their roles in society.

My husband teaches college-aged kids and faces some of the same issues. Kids want deadline extensions on assignments. They want exceptions made so that their poor planning can be excused without consequence. 

And yet, these kids were not born this way… we raised them to be this way. By giving participant trophies and false praise, we have raised a generation that will likely struggle in the workaday world of real life. They are not just the best thing ever. They really are not. They are not even close. I mean they have value as people, but only One was ever the best thing ever, and in no way is it them. Kids raised on false praise are set up for failure.

Our kids aren’t great at everything. It’s important for them to fail sometimes. It is in our failures that we find the strength to get up and keep going. We find out what we are made of when we come up short, and we learn how to get back up and try again. As parents, we have to let go of our fear over our kids. Yes, it hurts us so much when our kids suffer failure and disappointment. But it is on the backs of things like that that we have attained a measure of success in our own lives. Why do we want to snatch from them these valuable lessons?

Bonus points are great… when we earn them. Unearned bonus points just promote an entitlement mentality that won’t serve our kids well. You shouldn’t get them just for showing up. 

Soapbox Tuesday: Do We Go Deep or Wide?

There are a lot of fishing references made in the New Testament. Jesus had called fishermen to follow Him and to be His disciples, and when calling to them, had called them in the language of fishermen.  He would make them no longer fishers of fish, but fishers of men. One thing about fishermen that seems clear in scripture, is that a good day fishing meant that their nets would be full. Fishermen of any worth cast wide their nets with skill in the hope of catching many, many fish.

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I recently encountered a man whose evangelical fishing technique would oppose that of the disciples. After finding out that I attend and serve in what he (and most everyone else) would consider a mega church, he bristled a bit. I knew he was about to lay down the argument that most like him do. It is the deep versus wide argument. It’s the watering down of the gospel argument. He’d rather see a church cast deep nets with a few fish, than wide nets that end up full to overflowing. He would rather take a few people deep into theology, and make little theologians out of them, than bring scores of people into the family of God. We were not going to agree.

That’s not what the Great Commission teaches. This is what Jesus said in Matthew 28: 19-20:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

It was the theologians of that day that Jesus opposed. Why did he when they were committed to prayer, scripture, fasting, worship, and living a life separate from the world? While there is nothing wrong with these pursuits, indeed, we should all seek these things, it was their hypocrisy, piety, and absence of love for others that Jesus opposed in them. To be accepted by a Pharisee, you had to be like them… DEEP.

Now, I do recognize the scripture that says,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14.

That should not lead Christians into a small minded approach to evangelism where we take only the few, the proud, the ones willing to memorize the Torah to the exclusion of all others. We are to cast wide our nets. Of course, some fish will slide through. Not all caught in our nets will join us in God’s family and desire a significant, ever growing relationship with Jesus. Not all of them will be able to recite The Lord’s Prayer or know that the Christmas carol, “We Three Kings” is not biblically sound.

Not everyone who accepts Jesus will understand the meaning of terms like eschatology, hermeneutics, or apologetics. They will lack the knowledge to argue either the Augustinian or Pelagean view of salvation. I love all that stuff, and I can while away lots of time talking about it all, but when we shirk our responsibility of casting wide our nets in favor of taking the few and proud to the depths of theology, we miss the intent of the Great Commission, and we use it as an excuse to stay comfortable in our separatist churches that reach no one, ever, with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We are to reach them first with the saving grace of Jesus. And THEN we are to teach them to be disciples… which doesn’t have to be so hard. It basically means having a correct view of God, of ourselves, and of others.

I married a man who currently has three theology degrees, including a doctorate. We have frequent deep theological discussions around our house, but we are happy to be a part of a church that casts nets as wide as we possibly can. We can water down a lot of things with regard to theology. It’s pretty darned impossible to water down the gospel.


We are dead in our sin, eternally separated from a relationship with God, our Creator. Jesus, God’s only Son and perfect sacrifice, gave up His life in order to pay our sin debt, a debt we could not pay ourselves. In conquering death, Jesus made a way for salvation. If we accept that gift by faith through grace, we receive salvation, restoration, and a relationship with our heavenly Father that can never again be breached.

It doesn’t get more watered down than that. So yes, sir, I will drive by your church every Sunday (and I do) in order to pull up to one whose parking lot is full to overflowing with people who need Jesus, desire Jesus, and are desperate for believers who will demonstrate His love for them. And we will make it as simple as we can for them to get what they need.

This hereby concludes Soapbox Tuesday. 

Have You Been Deviled?

“Take every thought captive, or it will take you captive.” Jimmy Evans

Have you ever considered that, like eggs, people can be deviled? Here we are, minding our own business, and along comes our enemy, adding things to us.

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Thoughts that are not correct…

Ideas that are just a bit off…

Concepts that just don’t really measure up to the truth of the scriptures…

All for his enjoyment and our destruction. All so that he can devour us (1 Peter 5:8).

The Bible tells us that we are to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. The “make it obedient” part is pretty cool. Imagine a soldier with a spear prodding an enemy captive. That’s what it means according to the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament, Literal Translation. It also tells us that we are to demolish arguments and pretensions that set themselves up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians: 10). How many times does a random thought fly through our minds that just doesn’t jive with the word of God? Pretty often, I think.

Where do those thoughts come from? Some of them are our own, but some come from the one with the power to destroy us. He is the original silver tongued devil. He is so very convincing. If you doubt his abilities, consider this. He was able to convince Adam and Eve, who had never suffered any illness, disappointment, or unmet need, that the God who had provided them with every single thing, and who had communed with them daily, was not who He said He was and did not have their best interests in mind.

So we have to be vigilant. Just because a thought flies through your head does not mean that it is true. It is within our power to demolish arguments and pretensions. We can grab hold of any thought and decide if it’s a keeper. The alternative is we can wind up in rough shape mentally, spiritually, and relationally when we entertain thoughts that are not true.

I know this never happens, but let’s say that a husband does or says something thoughtless or unkind, and it hurts his wife’s feelings. She can quickly have poor thoughts about his character, his love for her, and even his devotion to God if she doesn’t  get it under control, pronto. She can also have damaging thoughts about herself as a result of what he did or said… some that he might not have even intended.  And what if she allows herself to go to bed and sleep on that hurt and anger that’s welled up inside? Well, anger plus time leads to bitterness and resentment. Bitterness and resentment are relationship killers.

What can we do to prevent hurt feelings from causing us to be deviled? We have to examine the thoughts we are thinking. Let’s say Matthew said something that made me feel un-valuable. I didn’t say he found me without value, but that what he said made me feel that way.  Does that mean that I am not valuable, in reality?

Well, let’s see what God’s word has to say on that matter.

The Bible says I am a pearl of great price. It says that God loved me so much that He gave His only Son to save me. It says that I am the righteousness of God in Christ. So the thought that I am having that is telling me that I am un-valuable is wrong. I have to let it go.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I completely discount what Matthew said to me. I also have to take captive what he says and see what truth there may be to it. Let’s say I did or said something that did not show the respect the Bible tells me a wife should show to a husband. I have to own that, correct it, make amends with Matthew… and move on. I don’t have to let my thoughts run away with me. I don’t have to let myself be deviled.

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Can you imagine how your life would change if you took charge over the thoughts that marched across your mind? What we think matters. Thoughts dictate our feelings, words, and actions. We can’t afford to leave that gate unguarded allowing wild thoughts to run rampant through our minds.

But what if we just aren’t sure if a thought is true or not? Seek it out, chase it down in God’s Word, and ask the Holy Spirit for help. He leads us into all truth, and he can search our hearts for those areas where we are lacking.

And one truth that you can hang your hat on is this… His thoughts never condemn. So if your thoughts are condemning you… they are not of God.

Storms A’comin

In light of the actual weather storms many are currently facing, I though a post on life’s storms might also be timely.

While recently vacationing in Mexico, I warily watched a storm on the horizon, while standing on the beach. I watched for a few moments, trying to decide if it was coming my way or not. If it was coming my way, I needed to prepare. I had just made my nest on the beach for the morning. I had my pillow from the hotel room, a towel (two actually), my phone, iPad, and laptop computer. I had my book for the week and my husband. If the storm was moving in my direction, I needed to know.

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Photo cred: Brian Cook

As I stood there, I could see it was not moving towards the shore, but across the horizon. I watched it intently for a few minutes before claiming my near miss. The next afternoon, we were not so fortunate. As we laid on our beautiful beach bed, we were taken by surprise when a large storm rushed the beach from the ocean in front of us. Only moments before, we could clearly see the horizon. How did that happen? Had we not had our room located close to the beach, we, and all of our things, would have been soaked to the bone.

You guys know where I’m going with this, don’t you? I’ve heard it said more than once about storms in this life: “There’s one coming at you, you are in one, or you just made it through one”. It’s the way of this life. It looks like if that is the case, and it is, we would never be caught off guard by them. But we are. It seems we would be in a constant state of readiness. But we aren’t. We often live as though our storms are all pop-up storms for which we could have never properly prepared, when many of them sent warnings from way out on the horizon… if we had just been paying attention.

The morning I watched the storm cross the horizon in front of me, I could see small ships out on the water. I wondered what they would do as the storm approached them. Would they turn tail and make a break for it? They didn’t. I imagined the crews on those ships falling into action, doing what they had been trained to do, never allowing panic to set in. They were prepared. They knew about storms and how to navigate them successfully.

The second day, when the storm came too quickly for most of us, I stood looking out to the beach from the relative safety of my hotel room. There had been vacationers that afternoon who had rented jet skis and had been taken out on the ocean for a ride. Their five minute instruction class on the beach proved to be inadequate preparation for the storm that came. I watched as panicked riders fought large choppy waves in their attempt to get back to safety. Several were separated from their tour guide, and were struggling in the wind and water. Panic set in as more than one required help getting back to shore by more experienced riders/guides.

I’ve weathered my share of storms this year. I’d like to say I was well prepared for them all. I’d like to say that. Some I could see on the horizon, and some were upon me before I realized they were coming. I’ve learned a good bit from both kinds lately. I’ve learned that no matter the storm, 1) The name of the Lord is a strong tower and those who run to it find refuge (Proverbs 18:10), and 2) After I have put on the full armor of God and I have done everything I can to stand… I stand firm. I dig my heels in, lean my shoulders into the wind and I stand (Ephesians 6).

As I watched the panicked Jet Ski riders calling out and signaling for help, I realized that they likely would not have made it through the storm successfully had they not called for, and accepted, help. Asking for help is rarely a sign of weakness. We were created to live in community, needing one another. This world is not made of billions of one-person islands. God sets the lonely in families because we cannot make it on our own (Psalm 68:6). I can do many things, but I cannot do everything.

Storms are a reality in this life. We prepare for them by staying close to the Father, He is our strong tower. We prepare for them by keeping our armor on, and learning how to dig in. And we survive storms by calling upon our people… the ones He has placed in our lives to help us weather the storms of this life. Everything smooth sailing in your life right now? That’s great. Keep your eyes on the horizon!