Month: July 2010

What Has Six Legs…

What has six legs, a black body resembling an inch long ant, bright red fuzz and a big stinger?
I recently asked myself the same question when my nine-year-old said there was one on our back patio. We all rushed to the glass door to take a look at what he saw. This kid is always seeing something out there. A couple of weeks ago it was he who first saw the four-foot black snake as it slithered through our back yard.
It looked to be the largest ant I had ever seen. We the brave, ventured out to take a closer look. This ant-ish bug was over an inch long, furiously trying to make it’s way off our patio, but not having any luck. My fifteen-year-old ran in the house to get his phone so he could snap a picture.
My nine-year-old rushed into the house to get a box in which to catch it… cause that’s what nine-year-old boys do. Frogs, lizards, caterpillars, turtles, stranded birds, and baby rabbits. At one time or another we’ve caught at least one of those. We carefully caught the bug, sealed it in the see through box and, yes, brought it inside.
After a few minutes I decided to see just what we had caught, so I did what anyone else would have done in my position.
I Googled it.
It took only a moment to discover what we had brought into our house. I love the Internet. The bug we caught is called a Cow Killer. Immediately I questioned the wisdom in catching it and bringing it inside.
As we read on, we found out it was not an ant at all. It was a wingless female wasp whose sting packs such a punch that it’s affectionately called a cow killer. I don’t think it can actually kill a cow, but I didn’t want to find out. I grabbed the box and immediately took it back outside, opened it and threw it into the woods. No, I didn’t kill it. In it’s way, it was beautiful, so I hated to squash it.
That seems to be the way with things that are not good for us.
Sometimes they are beautiful to the eye, but they pack a terrible punch if we get too close. We talk ourselves into thinking they won’t hurt us if we are careful, when all the while we should be running the other way.
I love to read mystery novels, but I have to be careful. Some of the best writers published today tell some very well written, but gruesome tales. Is that really what I want bouncing around in my head? I caution my kids about the music they listen to. I know, it has a great beat and maybe even a cool guitar part, but are the lyrics what they want soaking into their hearts and brains? For the most part I am proud of their choices, but every now and again we have to talk about it.
When I was little, my grandmother once asked me what I thought the devil looked like.
She said she wanted me to know, just in case I ever ran into him, so I could run the other way. I told her I knew exactly what he looks like. I said he was a big, red, ugly guy with a pointy tail and horns, and he carried a pitchfork. She laughed and then told me I was wrong. I looked at her a bit cockeyed cause I was pretty sure I had that one right.
She told me that Satan actually could be very beautiful. That he could use beautiful things to lure me away from God, and that I needed to be careful and watch closely for him. That anything standing in the way of God and me was quite definitely Satan or a tool he was using to lure me from God. I told her I didn’t think that was very fair.
Why do the things that are so bad for us taste so good, feel so good, sound so good?
It’s not fair, but that’s just the way of sin. If sin and the lure of temptation were easy to avoid, then well wouldn’t that be just peachy? So many times though, what we just know would be great for us, is exactly the worst thing. That’s when the dying to self comes in. We set aside our own wants and desires, and choose to want what God would have for us instead. It may seem like a kiss from your old Aunt Gladys on the front-end, but in the end-end, you’ll be able to see it was really much more.
And the great thing about things that come from God? There’s no punch. No sting. No regret.

Train up a Child

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
That’s Proverbs 22:6 and that promise is what multitudes of Christian parents hold to as insurance that their kids won’t walk away from the Christian faith as they grow up and out. Yet today ninety percent of all kids in their early twenties are doing just that.
If Proverbs 22:6 is what scores of parents believe, then what’s happening? We might need to take a second look at that verse. First, if you look at the phrase:
“in the way he should go”
A more accurate meaning is said to be, “according to his own way”. This changes the whole flavor of the verse from a directive to a warning. Listen to it this way:
“Train up a child according to his own way, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Haven’t we seen the result of parents letting their kids have their own way all around us? As good parents, are we not to train our child according to God’s way?
Say we don’t change the traditional wording of this verse. Let’s put it back to how good ol’ King James liked it:
“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
If we were truly following that directive then why are our kids departing?
I’ve resisted writing about this for a long time. After all, the jury is still out on my kids. So far, so good- but who’s to say? Still, I decided long ago I would do everything I could to make sure my kids didn’t walk away from the faith. So over the years, I’ve watched families around me- some who got it right and some who got it wrong. I’ve talked to lots of Christian parents and kids, read book after book on the family, and listened to more than my share of speakers on the subject, and I have formed a few theories of my own.
Now there’s this thing about theories. They are just that. But I’m throwing caution to the wind and sharing them anyway. There’s a generation at stake, and we have to do something. So far, simply holding onto Proverbs 22:6 ain’t getting the job done.
First, I believe that parents are the best way for kids to come to Christ.
Most children of elementary age, when asked who has had the most influence on their lives, will still list one or both parents. Yet alas, lots of parents depend on the church to get their kids saved.
I worked in kid’s ministry for over ten years and the fact is, the church has access to kids only about forty hours a year. That’s it. That’s less than one hour a week, and that’s if families attend church on a regular basis. That’s not enough time to qualify as enough. It’s great support for what they should be getting at home, but if it’s the bulk of the training they are getting, it’s not near enough.
The Bible teaches, in Deuteronomy, when parents are supposed to teach their children the ways of God. Chapter 6, Verse 7 says:
“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

If as parents we are not teaching them regularly the ways of God, then we are missing the boat.

Second, if we as parents are going to teach our kids the ways of God, then we better know them ourselves.
We can’t teach what we don’t know. Our kids are watching us. What are they seeing? What conversations are we having with them? Do we ever discuss scripture or spiritual things? Do we ever share with our kids what God is doing in our own lives?

Third, we’ve tried to surround our kids with people who say what we are saying, but who say it cooler.
Kid’s leaders and Youth leaders do this really well. We have been so blessed to have youth leaders speak truth into our kid’s lives in just the coolest ways. I mean, I’m cool- at least that’s what I tell my kids- but think of the impact a college aged or mid-twenties aged person who loves Jesus could have on your teen?
Find one or two that are willing to hang out with your kid.
Pay them if you have to.
My oldest son took guitar lessons from a young worship leader who was a great influence. Truth told I didn’t care if he taught my son anything about playing guitar. I would have paid him just to spend the time talking to him, pouring all that good stuff into his heart.

And finally, at some time kids must own their faith.
Kids will fly on the coattails of their parent’s faith, believing what they are told to believe, but at some point it has to become their faith. The best way I’ve found to accomplish this in having them serve God in a meaningful way. It has to be theirs, and it’s more than just attending church.

My oldest son started serving in church in sixth grade. He became a part of a youth worship team that led worship in a children’s church service. Since then, he’s learned to run cameras, and has served in both an adult worship services and a family service. He’s gone to serve in the Pittsburgh Project where kids from all over the US congregate and make repairs to homes in Pittsburgh’s poorest communities, and then love on the homeowners while demonstrating the love of Christ.
My next son also started in sixth grade by serving with me, and taught a group of fourteen little seven and eight year old boys on Sundays about God’s love for them, just by playing with them and helping them learn the stories of the Bible. It made me smile to see the impact he had on those little guys. He could say what I said to them, only cooler!
My daughter started serving in sixth grade as a preschool teacher’s helper. She had a group of kids she served and loved on every week. She was the hands and feet of Jesus to those kids. Her service allowed parents to attend church knowing their kids were in loving hands.
My two oldest kids, along with my husband, traveled to Daytona Beach, Florida this last week to help staff a camp for thousands of teens known as Bigstuf. Bigstuf was birthed with the sole purpose of reaching teenagers with the passion and love of Jesus. My oldest son has been looking forward to this week since last summer when he went, and used his skills as a cameraman, so that the kids in the rear of the huge coliseum could see on jumbo screens what was happening on stage.

Landon doing his thing!

Once kids know what it feels like to be used
by God in a real way, they never want to be without that feeling.

Thats the real hook.
Everything I’ve suggested is important, but it’s that hook that’s central. It’s what keeps them coming back for more. It not only has them running away from those things we hope they run away from, but more importantly it has them running toward the things of God.
My other son,Ryan- fifteen, who also served at Bigstuf this week posted on his Facebook page this morning-
“Sitting in stadium seating at church. Feels weird not to be behind stage helping.”
I call that a slam dunk! Yep! That kid’s hooked!
Will doing these things insure my kids won’t turn from their faith when they are older? Like I said, I don’t know yet. But I’m putting all my eggs into the basket, and praying like mad. I’m at least counting on it shifting the odds in their favor.

Defining Moments

We all have them.
It’s during those defining moments in life when we realize who we really are. Most of us have this concept of who we are in our heads, and sometimes we are spot on, but other times… not so much. You can’t deny a defining moment. In that moment you are faced with the truth. You either like the definition, or you don’t.
One of my first defining moments came in sixth grade. Middle school. Who would really go back and do middle school again if they could? I wouldn’t. It’s all about puberty, braces, bad hair, and social weirdness.
Middle school is when you begin dressing out for P.E class.
I cannot think of a worse time for a girl to start that. You are thrown into a big open locker room with fifty other girls, all in varying stages of development, and told to change clothes. There’s nowhere to hide, no room for modesty. Some girls, like me, were sporting training bras, and others looked like they could model for Victoria’s Secret. It was always the worst thirty seconds of my day. Yes, I learned to change my clothes super quickly.
I remember we were each assigned a locker to store our P.E. clothes. Some of the girls put locks on their lockers, and some didn’t. I was one who didn’t. I wasn’t really great at remembering locker combinations. I still have the occasional nightmare where I’m standing in front of my locker unable to open it. But not choosing to put a lock on my P.E. locker is a decision I would regret.
I grew up at the tail end of the time kids were being bussed from inner city schools to attend schools like mine that could offer them a quality education.
I understand the premise, but it stunk both for the kids who were bussed in, and the kids who already attended the school. None of us knew how to respond to each other.
I remember my first encounter with one of the newly bussed in students. I met her in the P.E. locker room. She was probably the biggest girl I had ever seen. She completely scared me to death. She looked tough and mean, and she had taken my things from out of my P.E. locker, and put her things in. I found my P.E. clothes in a pile on the floor.
Without saying anything, I picked up my clothes, and retreated to the far end of the locker room to change. I left my stuff on a bench since my locker had been taken over. My friends soon began to notice I wasn’t using my locker and why. They encouraged me to tell the girl she was using my locker, and that I wanted it back. Sure. It wasn’t their bones this girl was going to break!
Finally, after much prodding, I did it.
I marched right up to her as she was putting her things in my locker, and said to the back of her waist, “Um… That’s my locker.” She turned slowly around looking for the idiot who had spoken to her. Looking down at me, she put her hands on her hips, cocked her head to the side, and said, “So.” Then she turned back around, and finished dressing for P.E.
Instead of pushing the point and insisting on getting my locker returned to me, I slinked back to my corner of the room, and realized something about myself. I was a weenie. I didn’t even have the courage to say something to the gym teacher about my locker thief. I was afraid of her, too.
The Sasquatch who took my locker spent the next several P.E. classes targeting me during games of war ball, a game that has since been outlawed for its tendency to promote violence. War ball is dodge ball on steroids. Luckily, I was a small target, and pretty quick on my feet.
Then, one day, without explanation she moved her stuff out of my locker. I still don’t know why. It wasn’t because I did anything about it. I was a weenie, remember?
I didn’t like that defining moment.
I didn’t want “weenie” to be a part of my definition, and yet it was, and it continued to be for a long time. But I’ve learned something else about defining moments. They come to show you both where you are doing well, and where you need to make changes.
I didn’t like my weenie tendency, but God had put it there. The thing is, He never intended for it to come across as weenie-ness. He had intended for it to be meekness. I have since learned that God’s desire is for me to humble myself, and rely on His strength to meet my needs.
Meekness provides unexpected strength under pressure.
It provides gentleness and humbleness in dealing with people in all situations, but especially in the things of God. When I lean on my own strength, meekness quickly reverts to weenie-ness. But when I live by faith and through the strength God provides me, I am able to respond in meekness.
Meekness isn’t on many people’s top ten list of character traits. We often think of meek folks as weak folks, but scripture tells us differently. And best of all, the Bible does say that the meek shall inherit the earth, lockers and all!
Defining moments teach us truth about ourselves. If the definition is not what we wanted, there’s still a way out. With God’s leading, we can change our definitions. We can become God’s very own definition of who we are supposed to be.

Doing Church, Or Living It?

I’m growing my hair out.
I’m not happy about it, but my husband likes it longer so every once in a while I try growing it out for his sake. I figure I’ll soon be too old to sport a long style, so I’m trying it once again while the meter’s still running. My daughter is twelve. She just cut her long hair short. Our hair stylist told her it makes her look older. Laura liked that. Funny though, the last time I got my hair cut short the same lady told me it made me look younger. I’m suspicious.
So now my short haircut, that apparently made me look younger, is four months old and in that awkward in-between stage making it difficult to do anything with, and even more difficult to not go get cut off. In desperation, I enlisted my daughter’s help. I thought maybe she could do something with it. We heated up all our flat irons and curling irons. We got out all of our products, cause you know you gotta have products, and she went to work.
After a few different tries, she realized that this in between stage really is hard to make something out of, so she decided to just have fun and make her mom look loopy. At about the loopiest point, the doorbell rang. My husband was gone with my older boys, and not wanting to send my daughter or my youngest to the door alone, I had to answer it looking like an escapee from the loony bin. I decided to act as though I thought my hair was awesome. I answered the door with a straight face.
Standing at my door was a very normal looking woman about my age.
I didn’t know her. I could tell she was trying not to look at my hair, and I was offering no explanation. I noticed her hair looked quite nice. She launched into telling me about her brand new church, and that she wanted to invite me to come to their revival. I was sure she thought my hair needed to be relieved of its demon. I had a really hard time not smiling at that point. In addition to my crazy hair, the thought of a brand new church holding a revival tickled my funny bone.
I thought, really? You’re new church is already in need of revival? I wanted to say, “That’s not good”. I could understand having a VIVAL, but a RE-vival?
In spite of my hair, the lady gave me the flier she was holding with the information about her church’s revival. Not once did she even crack a grin at my hair. I was proud of her.
It makes me sad that churches feel the need to hold revivals at all.
Usually it means someone thinks the church is in need of a good shot in the arm to renew the life that should be there already. The thing is, what gives life to a church should never go away, but it sometimes does. Church becomes something we do rather than something we are. I think that’s probably the root of the revival problem. There’s just too many people “doing” church and not enough people living it.
(Late entry: The pastor that gave the message at my church today said that churches are filled with “cultural Christians” who want just enough of God to spend eternity with Him, but not enough of God to change their lives. I think he’s right.)
As Christians, we are to be the church everyday.
Everyday we have the abundant power of the Holy Spirit (the same Spirit that raised Jesus from death) that dwells within us. That power never runs low. I think that it’s when we do church under our own power that the interest and enthusiasm dry up, the excitement fades, it becomes a ho-hum experience, and folks start running around planning revivals. But when we live our lives everyday as the church, when we live as our own unique part of the body of Christ, living under the power of the Holy Spirit, we don’t need no stinkin’ revivals!
Maybe consider this, are you doing church or are you living it? If you are living it, how are you living it? What does that look like for you?

Swimming Upstream

I’ve made a few odd decisions in my time.
Okay, for example, I decided to friend only my girlfriends (yep, no men) on Facebook. See? Odd. Already I hear the ruffling of feathers out there. I said it was my odd decision.
If you were to look closely at my friend list on Facebook, you will find the random male person, but on super close inspection you will see that some way or another they are related to me, and are therefore given honorary girlfriend status to prevent possible bruised family feelings. Those are bad.
Most male people that have sent me friend requests through Facebook have taken the news like, well like gentlemen.
The nicest response I got was from a long time friend who responded by saying he didn’t need his name on my Facebook friend list to know I counted him as a friend. How nice. I almost made an exception for him. Almost.
The most surprising response came just recently. He was “shocked” that I couldn’t be friends with men on Facebook. After all, he said, “We are both happily married!” Sheesh. I know, swim against the tide and you’re going to get water up your nose. I tried to kindly express my point of view, but he got crossways with me anyway. (I’m relearning my Alabama colloquialisms...)
My presence on Facebook has been intentional. Initially it was to keep up with my kids who are on there. Hey, a mom’s got to do what a mom’s go to do.
Following that, I was convinced that my presence on Facebook should then be primarily to encourage my girlfriends, and to make and keep connections with women I had lost connection with. I just didn’t feel the need to have those kinds of connections with the male Facebook population. That’s it in a nutshell. It’s a small thing, really.
I don’t wag my finger in the face of those women who friend men on Facebook.
Like I said, this was my odd choice made after feeling convinced in my heart it was what I should do. I’m actually the only oddball I know that’s made this decision.
I’m more often such a willy-nilly kind of person. Unlike my husband, I am rarely all that intentional about the choices I make. But on occasion I’m convinced it’s time to be purposeful, even if it means getting a little water up my nose.
Going against the tide can be tough. It’s easier to go with the flow sometimes than to go with your convictions- especially if your convictions go against the norm.
Ever notice how convictions do that? More often than not, when we are convicted to do or not do something, it either goes against our own personal norms or the norms of society. It’s what makes sticking to our convictions so taxing.
(I just wrote some form of convict six times)
It’s like salmon swimming upstream. Those delicious fish are convinced this must be done. No manner of discussion will convince them otherwise. While all the other fish swim easily on the downstream currents, salmon struggle, fiercely holding to their belief that swimming against the current is necessary. I, for one, am glad they do. For if they didn’t swim up that stream to spawn, there’d soon be no more grilled salmon to be had.
What change is the Lord trying to make in your life?
It has to do with these convictions I’m talking about. It’s when He goes to work chiseling away everything that doesn’t look like Christ in our lives that these convictions come to us. What choice is He prompting you to make? What does He want you to lay down and walk away from? Or what is he prompting you in your heart to pick up and carry? It may mean you have to turn against the tide. But if it’s His prompting, His convincing, He’ll provide the strength you need to swim upstream.

Confessions of a Peeker

I said PEEKER, not PEEPER. Big difference!
Sunday services at the Methodist church didn’t end in an alter call, so I didn’t grow up familiar with that tradition, but I married a Baptist and quickly became familiar with it. Without fail, an “alter call” or “invitation” came at the close of every service, and usually it was followed up with the musical strains of each and every verse of “Just As I Am” as we waited for those who responded to the invitation for a new life in Christ, to make their way down front to the pastor.
We sang every verse of “Just As I Am” if necessary.
Every verse. Every week. It was back then that my peeking became habitual. I know- “with every head bowed and every eye closed…” Yeah, yeah, but I wanted to see if anyone was going to make their way up to the pastor, and keep us from having to sing every single verse.
When my husband accepted his first position as a pastor, we often talked about the necessity of such long drawn out alter calls. (I often brought up trying a different song…)
After several years, we found ourselves in a different church tradition that didn’t offer alter calls after each service. Instead, folks were given an opportunity to pray with a church elder up front after the service if they felt they needed it.
Poised at the front of the church stood the grimmest looking people I think I’d ever witnessed.
They looked like God’s gestapo. It almost made me long for “Just as I Am”. Almost. But really, if someone had need of spiritual guidance, I’m not sure they would ever be brave enough to approach those people. I peeked anyway, just in case, to see if anyone did.
Our journey through church styles has recently taken yet another turn, and I find that I am back in the land of routine alter calls and invitations. Yet there’s a varying twist now. No one has to make their way to the front of the room to pray with, or speak to, anyone. Rather, as every head is bowed and every eye is closed (sure) people are invited to pray to God for salvation through Christ.
And then the pastor does the most awesome thing for someone like me. He asks those people who took him up on the offer to raise their hands! Yep. You guessed it: I peek. But now it’s not because I am hoping that a quick end will come to a never-ending alter call, nor is it because I want to catch a peek at who is brave enough to approach the unapproachable.
Now I peek to see how many people are causing angels to pause in their heavenly worship to party for a while.
I do feel a little guilty for peeking, but I try to zero in on one or two people who raised their hands and, as the pastor is leading them in a prayer for salvation, I am praying for this most awesome decision they’ve just made.
Our pastor spoke once about the dilemma he faces with making this offer week in and week out. But as he (and I) look out over the crowd for those raised hands- and there are always raised hands- we both know that lives are changing, people are moving from death into life, and angels are celebrating.
So forgive me for peeking. I don’t mean to intrude.
It’s just that I really can’t help myself. Just this week at church, during the invitation, among the hands going up, I saw the hand of a father shoot up. His other arm was wrapped around the shoulders of his daughter who appeared to be about my daughter’s age. I know that the decision this man made will not only impact his life for eternity, but his daughter’s as well, and I made sure to cover that new beginning with prayer.
So tell me, do you peek, too?

“Unoffendable”

Are you unoffendable?
It’s not really a word, you know, but I bet you can figure out its meaning anyway. So many times we are easily offended by the careless actions of others. Someone cuts us off in traffic, and bingo– we’re offended. We don’t get the service we think we are due in a restaurant and wham– offended. Our spouse takes something we did for granted, and we cannot help those feelings of offense that come over us.
You know that feeling I’m speaking of. At almost the same instant, your mouth drops open, this little rush of air escapes your lungs, and your eyes bug out. I think that’s the universal posture of the offended. Our self-importance level goes off the charts, and suddenly pride takes us away on this “Oh no you didn’t!” trip.
Yet as Christ followers, ideally, shouldn’t we be unoffendable?
I learned this word at church. I think pastors have been given special permission to coin a new word if it’s needed to fill in an alliteration, or prove a point in a sermon. My pastor’s new word for the week was “unoffendable”. The scripture he was pointing to, that birthed this new word, came out of Galatians chapter two. Paul speaks in Verses 19 and 20 about how as a Christ follower, it is no longer he who lives, but Christ who lives in him. My pastor pointed out that dead people can’t be offended. They are therefore unoffendable.
His point might be a stretch, but it’s still a good point. (Not to mention, a neat new word.) The Bible talks a lot in the New Testament about dying to self and living for Christ. I used to help lead a children’s worship service with a wonderful friend of mine. Over and over, our mantra was “It’s not about us.” It was tempting to design the service around what my friend and I liked. Sometimes, I’d pick out a song for worship that I just loved, only to find the kids didn’t love it so much. Or the reverse was sometimes true. The very song I was sure would fall flat would end up being a favorite worship song among the children.
(I had to repeat our mantra a lot.)
It wasn’t about what song I liked or didn’t. It was about leading kids to Jesus, and if that meant singing a song I didn’t particularly like, then so be it. I had to learn it wasn’t about me.
And now I am learning it isn’t even about others. It’s about Christ.
Dying to self also means we set aside those things that would normally offend us.
Whether or not you are offended in a particular scenario is the surest way to tell if you’re all about you, or if you’re all about Christ.
If it’s all about me, when a potentially offensive situation arises, I’ll assume the universal offended posture. Wouldn’t it be great to never have that icky offended feeling again? It’s really a lousy feeling, but it’s hard to let go of being the center of our own universe.
Yet that’s just what we are called to do if we are followers of Christ.
So if my life is about Jesus, I’ll do my best to respond to the offender the way He would, with grace and mercy. If I choose to respond like Jesus, I’ll realize there just might be more to the story, and the offender may be in need of the grace and mercy Jesus offers. I can just about guarantee assuming a more Christ-like posture rather than an offended one, will result in a much more positive outcome.
I’m not unoffendable yet, but I’m going to try to work on it… How about it? Are you up for the challenge?