Month: March 2014

A Soft Place to Fall

We all need a soft place to fall. As a wife and mother I want to be a soft place for those I love most in this world to land when life gets hard. As Christians, we have a hard time admitting that we need a place where we can just be fallible sometimes. Aren’t we supposed to have it all together? Aren’t we the ones who know best how to trust in the promises of God?

We aren’t supposed to worry, we aren’t supposed to get discouraged, or feel overwhelmed with all that life throws at us. But the truth is, even Christians need to be able to pull off the mask and just be weak some days. Sometimes we need to be able to show someone our wretchedness without fear of being criticized for it.

I don’t know what I would do without people in my life that let me be less than perfect. As a ministry wife, there are few people who can handle me when I am at my worst. To that end, there are a precious few who have ever seen me on those days. I can actually count them on one hand, and I don’t need all five of those fingers, either. These precious few people mean the world to me.

Who do you have in your life that is your soft place to fall? Have you ever misjudged that place only to be allowed to fall hard? You thought they would catch you, but they just couldn’t do it? Have you felt the disappointment when that person just couldn’t handle knowing your brokenness?

We have to choose wisely those places to let it all hang out… but we must have them. We have to risk finding that place where we can be completely honest, for it’s in that honest place where healing can come. Where growth can happen. Only when we come to the place where we confront our weakness can we begin to grow out of it.

This is especially hard for people who work in ministry. I understand it. People need to believe that those who work in ministry have their stuff together. They have perfect marriages, model children, and uncomplicated lives. All things work out for them because they have a special relationship to the heavenlies, or whatever.

The truth is, ministry people face the same struggles, stressors, disappointments and frustrations that everyone else does. Only ministry people deal daily in eternity… other people’s eternity. Oh, we all know that it is the wooing of the Holy Spirit, and not by our doing that someone comes to salvation in Jesus. But the local church is the means by which God is choosing to accomplish the task of gathering in the lost sheep, and when the local church is your calling, the stress gets ramped up a bit sometimes.

No one likes to think that their ministers need a soft place to fall. They don’t like the thought of them falling at all. But without that soft place, ministers cannot make it over the long haul. They will burn out, have a moral failing, or grow ineffective in their calling.

As Christians, we all need to make room for everyone to be able to face their worst days and come out the other side looking more like Jesus and less like their old sinful self. That is the process of sanctification, and we need each other for that process to be successful.

Who is your soft place to fall?

Are you someone’s soft place?

Are you that place for your spouse? Your children? Your siblings or closest friends?

Being that place doesn’t mean you take on their brokenness yourself. Rather, we are called to bear one another’s burdens. A weight carried on the backs of two is much easier to carry. And when you are that soft place to fall, when you relieve that person of their burden, you keep it only long enough to then pass it off to the Father who is able to carry it.

Being a part of someone else’s process of sanctification is a noble thing. As believers, we are part of the same body. Lifting up another believer only serves to make the entire body healthier. We are the Bride of Christ. We want her to be spotless and ready for the day of the coming of the King. Every time we are willing to lift up another Christian, help them grow, help them refocus, and stand on what they already know to be true, we take one more step toward that day.

It Comes Down to a Silly Song

Initially, God wrote his instructions for living on stone tablets, and he entrusted them to Moses.

If we weren’t talking about God, I might think this was a foolish decision because Moses had a bad temper, and straight away broke the tablets the instructions were written on in a fit of anger. (See entire account in Exodus Ch 32-34)

Personally, I would have not wanted to be the one to have to go back to God and tell him I had a come apart and broke the tablets. But what choice did he have, really? It was the only copy and there was no printing off another in those days.

What was made perfectly clear through that situation was that those laws could be lost. God knew from the get go that they would serve only to show us how much we needed his instructions alive within us, not written on a tablet of stone, but written on our hearts.

Earlier in my husband’s ministry career, I found myself leading in children’s ministry. Historically, our experience had been that dealing with kids in church was considered more a necessary evil than a ministry worthy of real investment. With four kids of my own, I knew their capacity to learn and understand things qualified them for a greater investment by the church. So I wrote curriculum, attended children’s ministry conferences, and read books put out by other adults who had the same heart for kid’s ministry that I did. I wanted to produce a product worthy of my kids, and other people’s kids, too.

Doing so fueled a desire to plant God’s word in the hearts of children. I wanted to hide it there, because the heart holds onto information. Get information into the mind and it can be forgotten, get it into the heart and it is there for a lifetime. (Hebrews 8:10)

I began teaching my young kids scripture in song. Scripture written to catchy, fun music. One song in particular was one that taught the Fruits of the Spirit from Galations 5:22-23. My oldest son is now twenty. I just asked him to list for me the fruits of the spirit, and he sang me the song… every word.

Parents often ask me how to ensure that their kids grow up “right”. My answer is to plant the word of God in their hearts. Just take the Fruits of the Spirit for example… If these verses are firmly planted in their hearts, the results are incredible.

Love: Love for God, love for themselves, and love for others.

Joy: Where happiness is temporal and dependent on circumstances, Joy is constant despite circumstances.

Peace: Finding peace in the storms of life only comes when we find God’s peace.

Patience: Having patience to wait upon the Lord in this world of instant gratification is a blessing.

Kindness: We all want to see our kids show kindness towards all, especially others who are less fortunate or in need.

Goodness: We hope to see our kids investing their time in good pursuits.

Faithfulness: In a world where people bail on commitments, it would be good to raise kids who remain faithful to them.

Gentleness: In their actions and reactions, gentleness will serve them and others well.

Self Control: Fighting self-gratification, and learning not to make impulsive decisions, or fly off the handle in a tough situation, is a measure of real character.

We love our kids, sacrifice for them, provide for them, worry over them, teach them manners like not talking with food in their mouths, and saying “please” and “thank you”. We teach them obedience, make them go to school and do their homework, and correct them when they stray.

We do our best to raise them “right”. Yet, all of that is just a dog and pony show if we don’t also plant God’s word in their hearts. Without the anchor of the truths of God’s word in their hearts, they have nothing to hold them secure when life comes at them hard. And it will. Won’t it?

Can it all come down to a silly song?

Yes it can. Here’s some resources for younger kids to get you started raising those kids right…

http://www.seedsmusicstore.com

 

Living in Limbo-land

If you have ever known anything about real estate, you are familiar with the phrase, “Location, Location, Location.” In real estate, it’s all about location.

That’s not only in real estate. Where we live in our personal lives matters, too. Any time we exist in an unsettled state, for any reason, there can usually be found some inner discomfort. As a species, most of us enjoy life when things are safe, nailed down, secure, and predictable. When something happens in life that snatches that out from under us, we get a bit wobbly. We start grasping at anything around us to try to restore some stability and confidence in our lives.

No one likes living in limbo for very long. But at one time or another, we all take up residence there, either by our own choosing or by the choices of parties outside of our supposed control. I say “supposed control” because if we are truly honest, we never really have control at all, only the semblance of control. When things are happening according to our “plan” then we can breathe a bit easier, not worry so much, and we feel content. When they don’t, well…

There have been times in my life when I have lived in limbo. When my husband left his full time guaranteed salary and benefitted senior pastoral position for an unpaid one to start a new church, I found myself in limbo. When we moved back to my hometown of Birmingham without employment for either of us and signed a year’s lease on a house we had no way to pay for, I found myself in limbo.

Living in limbo kind of stresses me out. This disappoints me about me. Because here’s what is usually true of life in Limbo-land; usually God is just about to do something really big, and I truly love it when God does something really big. When God decides to shake things up, what usually falls out is so much better than anything I could have contrived in my own mind for my life.

Are you living in limbo? Are you feeling just a bit unstable? On shaky ground? Uncertain of the future? When you find yourself grasping for firm footing, make sure you are grabbing hold of the promises God made to us in his word. I dug up a few to get us started. Maybe you know of some more you can share here in Limbo-land.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13

“As for God, his way is upright; the word of God is pure; he is a shield to all those who take refuge in him.” Psalm 18:30

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Desperately Seeking Susan

As I get to know God more and more, I am pushed beyond my previous limits regarding what I thought about his character and who he is. As he shows me a clearer view of himself, I am completely shocked and awed by him time and again. Not in a bad way, mind you, but in a “Wow, I was really putting some major limits on who I thought you were, and what I believed you were capable of” kind of way.

The Bible tells us that God can do more than we can imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Whatever it is that I can dream up in my finite mind, he can infinitely surpass it and blow my mind. Recently, with this in mind, I have come to believe some things about God.

For instance:

Remember the story of the lost sheep? (Luke 15:1-7) Jesus told this parable to a group of “sinners” and church people gathered around. The church people were none too happy that the “sinners” were in such close proximity to them, and that, furthermore, Jesus didn’t seem all that bothered at having them hanging around. Don’t you just love that? Church people.

In telling this story, Jesus was trying to teach those church folks a thing or two about the heart of God. While God loves his found children, he will leave them high and dry to go find the lost one. He won’t even make sure the ninety-nine found sheep are safely tucked away from potential harms while he goes off in search of the lost one. No, Jesus specifically says that the Sheppard leaves the ninety-nine in an open field. I pondered this idea for a while. A long while.

Here’s the thing. God is more concerned about his lost ones, than he is about his found ones. Let that sink in. I didn’t say that he doesn’t love his found ones. He most certainly does, but he is more concerned about the lost ones. When I took that thought, and paired it with Romans 8:28, I got this:

I often wonder about a particular situation in which I find myself. On the one hand the situation blesses me, while on the other, it truly confounds me. On the days when the confounded outweighs the blessing, I ask the Lord what he has in mind there. I think of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt who cried out to God for hundreds of years, asking for his intervention. It took quite a while for Moses to be born, float down that river, be swept up by Pharaoh’s daughter, grow up in the palace, kill an Egyptian, run away and hide, then to come back and lead his people out of Egypt. The Israelites had a long wait. Four hundred years or so, actually.

So I recently asked the Lord, “What’s the deal here?” I think he showed me the lengths he will travel to rescue one of his lost ones. 

Four years ago my husband resigned his church position under a great deal of turmoil. It was the right thing to do, but it left him unemployed for a time. Eventually, he took another position in a far off place that, quite frankly, pretty nearly destroyed our family.

We managed to narrowly escape that situation and move back to my hometown, the place we met and married. But once again, we had no gainful employment. It would be many lean months before my husband found another job, and I would go through great pains before finding one in my field of nursing practice…

…Where I would meet someone I’ll call “Susan”. Susan is far from God. She doesn’t really know just how far, but she is, and God is “desperately seeking Susan”.  I cross paths with Susan on a very regular basis and we talk about God sometimes. One confounding day recently when I asked God, “What’s the deal?” I got a one-word answer.

“Susan.”

And then I asked the question. Could it be possible that everything I had been through the previous four years was all so that I could now cross paths with Susan, and be able to talk to her about Jesus and how much he loves her? 

“Yes” 

It’s possible.

You doubt his extravagance? You doubt the lengths he is willing to go? Remember the flood? The cross? He is willing to give up everything.

How cool is it to think that we serve a God willing to do whatever it takes to get to us? Even if it means sacrificing the other sheep out in that open field. As one of the “other sheep” who feels kind of sacrificed some days, I am happy to know he was willing to go that extra mile for me, once upon a time, when I was the lost one.

I just hope he finds Susan soon, and that she finds him back. I am a tired sheep…

Kick the Worry Habit

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.” ~Mark Twain

One of my favorite sayings is, “Let’s not jump off that bridge until we have to.” Statistics say that eighty-five percent of the things we worry about happening never happen. They never happen. So I wonder how much time we spend worrying about things that never come to pass?

Too

Much

Time

The Lord knew we would worry. It’s one of the reasons he told us never to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We were never supposed to be able to decide for ourselves that which is good for us, and that which is bad. When you take away that ability, you take away worry. If you doubt me, then take a look at the story in Genesis.

What was the first result of their eating from that tree? Worry! Even before the buck passing started, there was worry. Adam hid from God because he worried about what God would think of his nakedness. Worry has been our enemy from the beginning, and has become a tool of the Adversary from that time forward.

Worry steals time from us, it robs our joy, and worry can even paralyze us. It keeps us up late, making for many sleepless nights, causes our physical health to decline, leads us to making bad decisions, brings conflict to friends and family, and keeps us from moving forward in our lives.

We really must get a hold of this thing called worry. What would our lives look like if we just never worried about things that will likely never happen? How much time would be freed up for us to accomplish that which we have been placed here to do?

One of the big problems with worry is it seems we cannot help sharing it with those around us. When we are worried about something, then we must tell those around us so that they can worry with us. The more people who are worried, the better, right? If someone else is worried, too, then somehow it validates our own worrying. But in essence, what we have done is drag another person into the trap of worry with us. How unkind. Why do we do that, especially to people we love?

The Bible tells us that we cannot add one day to our lives by worrying. (Matthew 6:25-34) Look at the flowers of the field. They don’t worry about anything and yet they are more beautiful than any royal robes ever worn. And what about the birds of the air? They don’t worry about where their next meal is going to come from, and yet they eat.

So what is the remedy of worry?

Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” ~ John 14:27

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” ~ Col. 3:15

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” ~ 2 Thess. 3:16

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Phil.4:6-7 

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” ~ Prov. 3:5-6

Need I go on? Worry has been around since the fall of man back in the garden. But God’s peace is also available to all who learn to seek it. I’ll not kid you, this retraining of the heart and mind takes time and much effort. I used to be a bridge jumper, but I have worked hard to stop all that. That’s not to say that I don’t jump from time to time, but it is rare these days. And can I tell you something? Peace beats the socks of off worry every time.

Most Christians like to claim Romans 8:28, but most Christians don’t really embrace it. Not really. Why? Because we want to decide what is good for us, and sometimes we are way off. We can count on the fact that God is working all things out for our good, we just have to learn to trust in him for what that good is. Let go of worry today. Kick the worry habit. Embrace peace.

Now That’s Sexy!

Matthew and I will soon celebrate twenty-four years of wedded bliss. I could ask, Where did the time go?, but I know where it went. All of it. Fifteen houses, four kids, three states, nine ministry positions, and more than a few gray hairs later, and we are still going strong.

How can that be? Some people would look at us and say that we are lucky to have the marriage we have. I would beg to differ. We do not have the marriage we have because we are lucky. We have the marriage we have because we work hard at it.

Marriage takes a lot of work. It takes two individuals, who are vastly different creatures, learning how to walk this life out together without killing each other in the process. Those who do that, have a great deal to show for it. Those who don’t, spend their lives pondering what went wrong from their 8×8 prison cell.

One of my favorite Ruth Graham quotes is this. They asked her did she ever think about divorce and she said, “No, I’ve never thought of divorce in all these 35 years of marriage, but,’ she said, ‘I did think of murder a few times.”

I’ve learned some things in twenty-four years of being married. I’ve learned that Matthew and I see the world in very different ways. He sees the world through man eyes, and I see it through woman eyes. It is incredible how clearly you can see the world when the two eyes are working together. The view is incredible.

When we first got married, I just figured all the gushy, mushy feelings would stay with us forever. When I was a newlywed, I wanted to be with Matthew all day, every day. I wanted to hold his hand, kiss his mouth, and walk every step he did. I soon learned that was not to be my life. It’s just not practical. After a while, eventually you have to stop ogling each other, and go to work.

But there is something to say for couples who manage to keep the fires burning for years and years. If you have ever tried to keep an actual fire burning, you know that it takes some tending to. Those fires will burn out if left alone, and starting a fire back that has gone cold is much harder than keeping a fire burning that is already lit. The same is true of marriage.

I am happy to say that the fire in my marriage is still burning. It’s not like it was in the beginning. In the beginning it was like a bonfire burning bright for all to see. Now, our fire is more like a campfire. It’s still warm, comforting, and it still sends up sparks from time to time, but its more of a steady glow than a raging bonfire.

Are you finding that the fire is growing dim in your own marriage? Maybe it’s time to stoke it a bit. When was the last time you took a trip, just the two of you? No kids, no jobs, just the two of you? How about a night out on the town? Get dressed up and go eat at a restaurant you can’t afford. Hold hands. Sit on the same side of the table.

When was the last time you looked at your spouse and thought, “Now that’s sexy?”

Let’s face it, we all eventually succumb to time, gravity, and the middle aged spread, albeit, some more than others, but sexy can still be there, if you look for it. Most of us said when we were younger that we wanted someone to grow old with, only now that we are actually growing old with someone, it’s not all we thought it would be. We’re older now, and sometimes old doesn’t look as good as we thought it would when we started this journey. Growing older is a reality, though, but it doesn’t have to be a killjoy in the marriage department.

You find sexy in the most unusual places when you are my age. For example, not too many weeks ago, I watched my husband in full on worship at church. Hand raised, singing his heart out to his Savior. BAM! Now, ladies, that was S E X Y! I’m not sure why that struck me as sexy, but in that moment, it did.

Maybe it’s time to throw another log on the fire of your marriage. Maybe you’ve stopped looking for sexy in your mate because you’re not twenty something anymore. Pish posh. Look for it. You’ll find it in the oddest places. And when you find it… do something about it. Good marriages aren’t accidental… and they aren’t the luck of the draw either. It takes effort and we have to pay attention. Where are you seeing sexy in your mate?

There’s No Getting Voted Off God’s Island

The new season of Survivor is now on TV. We usually watch it some. This last week was the start of the season. In all honesty, this season, I am just tired already of watching these people parade around in their underwear. Is that really necessary? Do I need to see all that? No. I don’t need to see all of that.

But in the midst of all that unnecessary skin exposure, a nugget of value rose to the surface. The game of Survivor is really a social experiment. Alliances are made and broken, promises are made and broken, all in an effort to survive to the last day and have the opportunity to win a bunch of money.

It’s forty days of uncertainty. Every player strives to position themselves to make a strong alliance with other players that will carry them through to the end. But here’s the kicker, no one can ever be sure of validity of such alliances. So called “friends” will play each other and some of the best TV moments on the show are when someone who just knew their alliances were going to hold strong, end up getting voted off the island by the very ones who swore their loyalty. Sheesh. Very few players of Survivor can make the entire forty days with their integrity intact. Most of those kinds of people end up voted off early.

That got me to thinking about alliances. An alliance is a union formed for mutual benefit. The Bible calls it a covenant. God made a covenant with Israel. He would be their God and they would be His people. He would make sure they defeated their enemies, and lived in a posh land flowing with milk and honey, and they would serve Him, and only him, for all their days. It was a holy alliance. God always kept his side of the deal, but Israel was a rebellious lot, and like the Survivor players, often caved on their end of the bargain.

When we travel over to the New Testament, we find that God was still interested in covenants. Through Jesus, a new covenant was made. This time, being in relationship with God was not based on performance. Humans had already demonstrated their inability to keep that up. Instead, the alliance required a once and for all sacrifice for all time. This covenant was made on the back of Jesus, himself.

When we enter into this particular covenant, it is a once and for all, never say die (except daily), binding relationship. Because we could do nothing to strike this deal, neither can we do anything to nullify it. When I hear fellow believers who have the idea that there is something they can do to cause God to let them go, I am reminded of the scripture that speaks otherwise.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-30

Jesus has already paid the price for our sins. The ones we committed yesterday, today and the ones we will commit tomorrow, next week, and twenty years from now. There is nothing we can do that will make God love us more, and nothing we can ever do to make him love us less. He is not disappointed in us. We do not have to worry about the relationship we have with the Father. Our picture stays up on his fridge, no matter what.

We can know that we are secure in his love. Our alliance with him is strong. Our covenant is binding. There is no tribal counsel, no getting voted off the island. Jesus doesn’t go back on his part, he doesn’t withdraw his sacrifice.

Jesus left this earth to go prepare a place for those of us who love him. (John 14:1-3) Not because he hopes we will be there, but because he knows we will be.