Month: April 2016

Can We Really Change the Standard?

One of these days, Matthew and I plan to build our last house. You know, the one out of which they will carry us feet first? That house. There are a lot of hopes and dreams built into the idea of that house. We want a place for family and friends to gather. A place where grandchildren will love to come and stay, and where our kids and friends want to come and hang out with us. The conversations we have about this house are fun. It’s fun to dream together.

Whenever I visit a house that has characteristics I admire, I take notes, I photograph, and I measure. Recently, I had the opportunity to stay in a lovely home. I sat in the large, open family room and decided, “I like the size of this room. I think this is about right.” So I got up and positioned my back against one wall and began walking heel to toe to the other side of the room, counting my steps as I went.

A friend saw me doing this and asked what I was up to. I told her, “I’m measuring.” When I got to the other side of the room I announced, “Thirty-five feet”.

My friend said, “This room is not thirty-five feet long.”

I said, “Yes it is. I just measured it. You sat there and watched me.” I pointed to my feet, wiggled my toes, and said, “I took thirty-five steps across this room, toe to heel. Thirty-five feet.” My friend was getting frustrated and I was amused.

“Stacey, if you go to design a house based on your measurement, you’ll end up with a room way bigger than you expected. Your foot is not twelve inches long!”

“So you are telling me that twelve inches is the only standard measurement of a foot? Are you telling me that I cannot simply change the standard because my feet are not twelve inches?”

“I’m telling you if you decide to ignore the standard, you’re going to end up with a messed up house one day.”

I smiled.

“I hate you.” She said.ruler

My friend is right. There are lots of folks in society today that want to change the standard to fit their ideal, but the fact is, the standard does not change, even if we find we don’t fit it. I don’t know when twelve inches became a foot, but it’s been a standard that has been tried and true. (For my more thorough readers, a Google search revealed that it was established during the reign of Henry I, sometime around 1100) My foot is about eight inches. It’s a foot, but it’s not a foot. It’s not the standard. I like my foot. My feet have been good to me, but my feet are not a standard of measure for everyone.

I could start stomping my feet and insisting that everyone change the standard to equal my fabulous foot, but that would be unwise. Someone with more wisdom than me decided once upon a time that twelve inches would be the standard measurement of a foot, and it has made life orderly and safe. I like new things and I love innovation. I have a chickenchickens.PNG cam, for crying out loud.

Innovation is wonderful as long as it does not involve changing the standards by which we are to live out our lives. Whether or not I choose to acknowledge twelve inches is a foot does not change the standard. We can choose to live outside biblical standards all day long, but it doesn’t make them not the standards we are to uphold. We cannot change those. We didn’t institute them. Someone with infinitely more wisdom than us came up with those.

God set forth a standard for healthy, successful societies. He set forth a standard for healthy, successful individual living, too. We can choose to deny that He set the standard, but it doesn’t change the fact that He did. We can decide to live outside those standards, but eventually we are going to end up with a messed up house.

 

 

Out of the Ashes

As a parent, I have spent a great deal of time making sure that my kids have all that they need and much of what they want. It’s what “good” parents do. We want to give them things that perhaps we did not have, or the good things that we did have and want to bless them with also. We want to limit harm, hurt, and struggle. But I wonder if that is really always for the best. My kids will be thinking I’ve finally gone around the bend just now in even pondering these things.

I’ve been reading a book called David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell, and I have thought some about these things. How, at times, heroes and champions rise from the ashes of tragedy or loss. How, at times, those risings might not, dare I say, have happened without the related horror that begat them. Heady stuff, I know.

Years ago, I used to live in a house of cards. I was a bit of a fearful sort. What if this happened or what if that didn’t happen? What if tragedy lurked just around the corner and I was caught unawares? How would I cope? What would I do if my fragile life suddenly fell apart?

You see, I had been brought up in a model home. My parents stayed married. My dad always had a job. We were all healthy. I had pets, toys, friends, and opportunity. I cannot think of a single time, growing up, when I had to struggle for anything, really. I appreciate what lengths my parents went to in order to provide this life for me. But when you have everything, you can have an ingrained fear of losing it all. If you have never lost much, you don’t know how you will deal with loss if it happens.

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I grew up and got married. Matthew and I had some of the usual newlywed struggles and  some of the more unusual ones, but for the most part, we fared pretty well. After about three years, we had our first son. Not too long after kid number one arrived, news of kid number two was announced. And soon after that, we discovered that the blessing was doubled and we would be having twins. We did. Too early. Justin and Ryan were delivered at 28 weeks. Just a few short weeks later, Justin died. It was the first real tragedy of my life.

As horrible as it is to lose a child, it was cause of the greatest growth spurt of my emotional and spiritual life. I became someone else after that loss. Someone I likely would not have become if I hadn’t gone through it. I found I was no longer afraid of much. I learned that if I am knocked down, I can get back up again. I learned that short of losing my husband or another child, there was little the world could throw at me that would top what I had already been through and survived. I cannot tell you the freedom I gained from that tragedy. It was a complete game changer for me. It still is.

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Matthew was pastor of a church after that tragedy. That church struggled with unresolved issues- ungodly things that had happened before we arrived on the scene, and those things were coming home to roost for that community of believers. My husband had tried to walk them through to healing, and in the process had taken quite a beating. Had that been one of Paul’s church plants, we would have definitely had another epistle in the Bible addressed to them.

I can remember sitting next to an older woman in church during that very hard time. With tears in her eyes, the lady looked at me with just a bit of disgust and said, “This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me!” I looked at her and said, “Well, this is certainly not the worst thing that has happened to me. And this is going to be fine, one way or another.”

I’ll never forget that day. It was rough, but I had lived through worse. I had risen from the ashes of tragedy and gained new sight, and in doing so had realized “that there are real limits to what evil and misfortune can accomplish”. (Gladwell) No one welcomes tragedy or misfortune, and I would be a really bad mom if I wished it on my children, so I don’t, but I know that if it comes, God’s promises are true. He will trade beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61), and it is possible to rise up better because of it.

 

Come On In, If You Can Get In

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

I sometimes think back on the house I grew up in as a child. I remember the large picture window on the front of the house. That window looked out from the large living room inside.

That was the room we didn’t actually live in. All of my mother’s really special decorations were in there. The china cabinet that held her china and crystal pieces was in that room. The room had nice patterned winged back chairs and an antique desk. It also had one of the most comfortable couches I have ever sat upon. (I didn’t really know that until I moved out and my parents gave me the couch for my apartment, and I actually sat on it.)

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The living room was the room you were invited to sit if you showed up at our house unannounced and the rest of the house was a mess. Guests could be entertained in that room, and never see the clutter and disarray that might be lurking elsewhere. Now my mom was a pretty decent housekeeper, but the living room was always perfect. If you only saw the living room, you might think the rest of the house looked just the same. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t, but the living room was what we showed as representative of the rest of our home.

Sometimes I wish I had a room like my mom’s living room at my house. I don’t. My house is too small, and there are too many people living in it to have such a room. If you walk into my house unannounced, you’re going to see art projects and homework assignments in progress on the dining room table. You’re going to walk into the kitchen and see that my kids don’t always remember how to put dirty dishes in the dishwasher. You’ll see throw blankets and pillows on the floor in the den, and you just might see where the cat has harked up a hairball on the kitchen floor. I try to fight back the mess monster, but sometimes he wins.

I think about my childhood home, and I realize that sometimes I am like that place. Depending on who you are, you may only get to see the perfect living room of my life. I’ve got that area nice and cleaned up; I don’t mind showing you that place, but the doors are closed on the rooms in my life where things get a little messy. I don’t allow just anyone into those areas because they might not like what they see there.

The thing is, if we shut those places off, and never let anyone in to see, we won’t likely ever get around to cleaning them up. It’s just easier to shut the door and ignore what’s going on in there. If we limit access, then we can continue the facade of perfection. I think that’s why Jesus is such a problem for many people. Folks want to allow Him access to the pretty parts, but He want’s unrestricted access to everything. It’s like He doesn’t understand our system. He’s supposed to stay in the parlor, but He asks to see the kitchen, bathrooms, and back bedroom.

During my childhood, every so often, a neighbor would knock on our back door. Uh oh. When my mom would answer the door, I can remember she would say with a sigh, “Come on in, if you can get in”, meaning excuse the mess. This friend had bypassed the front living room, and had been allowed in to where we really lived. And the cool thing about those people is they didn’t seem to mind the mess. Sometimes they even seemed relieved to see it. It was almost like, “Okay, you have a mess, too.”

I think most of us want to put our best foot forward to the world. We want to appear as though we’ve got it all under control, but what if we actually let Jesus in to those messy places? What if we just opened the door and said, “Come on in, if you can get in”? I can tell you, Jesus will and He can. I’ve never seen anyone else come into a messy life and clean it up like He does. He doesn’t just make Himself at home in the mess, He cleans it up. How about that for a deal? My best friend is really awesome, but she’s never just come over to my house and cleaned it up for me. (Tammie, if you’re reading this, the key is under the mat. Knock yourself out.)

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I can tell you, cleaning up those dirty places in your life is hard work. There’s lots of stuff you have to let go, things to toss out, stuff that needs some light and shown the door. It’s not particularly easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Maybe it’s time to open some doors. I mean for some, Jesus has been knocking a long time. He’s not tired, but aren’t you?

Own It, Deal With It, and Get On With It

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Proverbs 28:13

When my kids were little, Matthew and I lived far away from family. I would be lying if I said raising four kids on our own was easy. Fortunately, I was able to work part time, night shifts, as a nurse so that I could be home with the kids during the daytime. I loved the summertime at home with my kids. Long, lazy summer days that seemed to go on and on…. and on and on and on.

Okay, some of those days were tough. I can remember talking to my mother on the phone on one particularly difficult day and telling her that my home felt like a daycare, only no one ever went home. When my oldest two boys were about five and seven, I would send them outside to play in our back yard. I’d leave the sliding door that led to our screened in porch open so that I could hear them playing while I entertained and took care of the younger two. Divide and conquer was my motto.

One day, I had managed to get the younger kids to go down for naps at the same time. I had won the lottery. I sat down on the couch to try once more to fold a load of laundry when I heard a cry and then two sets of little feet stomping up the steps outside. I knew something was up and it wasn’t good. My peace would be short lived. The first to appear through the door was my oldest son. Standing there in the doorway with his hands on his hips, he admitted, “Okay. I did it. I hit him.”

Behind my oldest then came his younger brother with tears rolling down his dirty little face. He stood there lingering behind his brother, all wounded looking, his tattle already told for him. His brother had not only hit him, he had stolen his thunder, too. It truly was hard not to laugh in the face of such a situation, but I had to hold my poker face in check and referee the situation. Admonitions were handed down, amends were made, and forgiveness gave way to more playing in the back yard. Most of the time little boys would rather play than hold a grudge.


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When my husband and I were dating and got engaged, he sat me down and confessed everything he had ever done wrong or had ever been accused of doing. He had given his life to Christ and surrendered it to full time ministry, but he had once been quite the adventurous and challenging teenager. He didn’t want there to ever be secrets or undisclosed issues standing between us. It was a brave thing to do, and I loved him for it. He came to me with everything before the enemy could use it to cause us trouble later on. He had just stolen his accuser’s thunder.

I thought about both of those times again last night as I sat in church listening to some truths about the enemy of our souls. He is the accuser. He accuses us to the Father, and to ourselves. His finger pointing is legendary. He loves it when we misstep or do something we shouldn’t do. So instead of hiding it, why don’t we just run to the Father ourselves? Why not just own it, deal with it, and get on with it?

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Just like Adam and Eve, so often we want to hide our missteps from the Father… as if He doesn’t know already what we’ve done. We choose to hide in the bushes while our adversary goes straight to Him and tattles on us. Most of the time, we know when we are at fault. The best thing we can do is outrun our accuser to the Father to make amends first. Can you imagine the disdain of our adversary if we did that?

We’d already be finding mercy, forgiveness and restoration before he could even get a single word out against us.

Dead People are Hard to Offend

I’ve had several opportunities to be offended lately. I hate to pass up an opportunity, you know. But when it comes to offense, I really should. That can be really hard, after all when opportunity knocks…

Say someone says something about you that just isn’t true. Or maybe it is true, but it’s not that flattering. That’s a prime time to take up offense. What about when someone does something to you they should not have done? Awesome opportunity, I say. And what about those times when someone doesn’t do something they should have done. Boy howdy! I can feel my blood pressure rising even now. I could go on and on talking about the ways we can feel justified in taking up offense.

It’s amazing how quickly we can put up our dukes at even the slightest provocation.

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Does this sound familiar? When an offense comes, my blood pressure starts to rise. I get all puffed up. I begin fighting the words that want to spill out of my mouth in retaliation. How dare they say or do that to me! I want to spew out reminders of their failings and their flaws. I want to set the record straight. After all, who do they really think they are? Mr. or Mrs. Perfect?

Offense is my problem, though, not theirs. When I find my security and identity in Christ, then I should be able to hold those feelings of offense in check. When my self-worth does not depend on what someone does or says to me, then it is easier to handle those things when they do happen.

What to do, what to do…

Will our offended response make our lives any better? What about the lives of those around us? Will our offended behavior bless others?

I think the mature thing to do is stop and consider some things. Is the offender someone whose opinion we value or should value? If it is, there might just be some truth to what they are telling us. Often our offense prevents us from hearing any truth a person may be trying to share. Can we offer grace instead of offense? Does this person ultimately have our best interests in mind? Or is the offender a total stranger whose investment in our lives and our success negligible? In which case… can’t we just let it go?


Most of the time, we are too busy defending our own honor during these situations to consider the person who has offended us.

We forget the times that we offended another person, and would have enjoyed some grace in a situation.

But let’s say there is not even a shred of truth to what they say, or nothing admirable about what they’ve done. Should that even matter?

There were many things said about Jesus on the day He was crucified. Many of those things were offensive. The things done to Jesus were even more offensive. And yet, at no time did He take up the offense. At no time did He allow the offenses to derail His ultimate mission. For not one instant did Jesus let those things said or done overshadow who He was and what He was about.

Christ is our example. As believers, our identity is wrapped up in who He is and not who we are… even in the face of offense.

It is the self that takes up the offense. But as believers we are to die to self, and in doing so… well, it’s hard to offend a dead person. Offense serves to protect our pride. Offense wants to guard this puffed up version of ourselves. But here’s the thing, as followers of Christ, our mission is not to raise up or protect our image or persona, our aim is to make Jesus famous. Offense makes it about us.

In the end, there are just going to be those people who will find it acceptable to offend. It is up to us to decide if we allow it to cause us to sin. Here’s what Matthew 18:7 says will happen to those who cause others to stumble:

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!”

Repeat offenders will have their day. “Woe” to them. So there’s a little satisfaction for you, for the next time an offender strikes! Next time… leave the offense on the table.

Our Kids Win

Each month, on the second Wednesday night of the month, I stand in an auditorium filled with more than 2,000 teenagers, and witness worship like I never saw it as a teenager.

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It is truly incredible, this worship these young believers give up to the Father. It inspires me, and at the same time I understand that this phenomenon is not without purpose.

Before too much longer, these same kids will be in the distinct minority in this country. They will be labeled as non-progressive, uniformed, ignorant, intolerant and unloving. The freedom to practice our faith without limit will not be available to them, not because of any change to the Constitution, but because of the change to our society. It will steadily grow more difficult for Christians to openly practice their faith without ridicule. It will be costly to live and do business, and still publicly abide by biblical standards. We are seeing this begin already.

Many would say that it is my generation’s fault for allowing our Christian liberties to be taken from us. Others will blame my parent’s generation for indulging their children too much. In all honesty, my generation has not had to fight for much.

The Bible is being cast aside as if it is not the ultimate authority on everything. I can remember when the Bible was held in high esteem by even the most apathetic of people. Now those who prefer to live outside its guidelines want to paint as villains those who live within them.

The issues in play now are not even the grey areas of scripture. The devil’s advocates are going for the gusto now. They don’t care that their targets are the clearly defined moral guidelines in scripture. They are attacking the very structure of a healthy society. To what end? Have they not seen what happens when you attack and destroy the moral fiber of a society? Ruin. That’s what happens. Look at me, the eternal optimist, sounding all doomsday!

I know this feels like completely depressing stuff. It’s not that I am trying to cast a shadow on your day, but the reality is, there was nothing that my generation, or my parent’s generation, could have done to stop it. That should make us feel a bit better, right? We all want absolution. The truth is, the earth has been spinning out of control since the fall of man. The spinning is just picking up a bit the closer we get to the triumphant return of Jesus.

So yes. Our kids are going to have it tough. But when I watch them in worship, I know they are being prepared and it fills me with joy. For many, their faith is strong, and they will stand much stronger than we would have at their age.

They will learn what it means to live in the minority, but if they can stand, they will stand victorious with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

These days are really pretty exciting. To live during a time when so many prophecies are coming to pass is truly incredible. Scripture says in the last days there will be a great awakening and many will come to Christ during that time. These kids, our kids, will do that amazing work, and they will do it well.

So while people are arguing over who can use which bathroom, who can marry whom, who can decide they don’t like what sex they really are, and why can’t pedophilia be considered a sexual orientation, (Honestly, I don’t make this stuff up) these kids are going to be ready for the trumpet sound and the return of the King. They are going to run their race no matter what, and they are going to fight the good fight.

As parents and mentors to this generation, the best we can offer them is sound teaching to equip them and prayer to strengthen them. They need to learn that to suffer for Christ is to share in His victory. And we need to under-gird them with prayer that has real teeth. Not these wimpy little, “as I lay me down to sleep” prayers. Their fight is not with flesh and blood, but with principalities in a world we cannot see, but a world that is more real than the reality we can see. (Eph. 6:12)

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In the book, Heaven is for Real, the little hero of the story tells his father what his role will be in last Great War. You know, Armageddon?  In truth, it frightened the dad a bit. But the little boy told his dad, “Don’t be afraid, dad. You win.”

We may be frightened, too, of what the world is coming to, but if we believe, we know. It’s coming to Jesus… once and for all. And that’s great news. So don’t be afraid, our kids win.

What You Think Matters

How you think matters. What you think matters. The Bible warns us about the thoughts that come into our heads.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

So why such admonitions? Because on a cellular level, our thoughts shape our brains. Literally. You don’t have to take my word for it… go Google it. Our thoughts travel down neurons and across synapses in the brain. When we think, these messages must travel across this distance, or synapse. When we think the same kinds of thoughts again and again those particular synapses grow shorter and easier to cross, and we are hard-wiring our brains to follow those patterns. The repetitious thoughts we have literally shape how our brains are structured. Ever notice how happy people seem to grow happier, and sad people can’t seem to get happy?

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It’s neuroscience.

And it’s biblical. And as a believer who loves science, I love when they work together. Here’s a hint… they always do!

Proverbs 23:7 tells us that as a man thinks, so he is.

The thought patterns we establish for ourselves, to a great extent, affect our outlook on life. And here’s another little kicker… the thought patterns of the people with whom we surround ourselves can heavily impact us as well. Ever notice how some people leave you feeling happy and others just bring you down?

Several years ago, I was pretty depressed. Matthew and I had literally fled a dangerous and manipulative church situation. Talk about mind control! We moved back home to be near family and begin again, but neither of us had a job and yet we still had four kids to feed and shelter. In my defense, I had much to be depressed about.

Thankfully, my long time best friend invited us to her church. After a few months, we decided to join that church. Why? Because it was life giving. I left each service feeling better than when I came. My thoughts were more hopeful and I began to pull out of my depression. I know now what happened. I was reordering my thoughts.

Romans 12:12 puts it this way:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

I had lost my way and I was stuck in my own thoughts. But as soon as I began to renew my mind, everything changed. The thought habits I had were replaced with new ones. I began to see life completely differently. I saw the things that happened to me in the light of Christ and his plan for my life. Thoughts of dread became thoughts of hope. Depression turned to joy, and I have not looked back. Joy is so much better!

Do I still have the blues sometimes? Sure. But I know the power of my own thoughts to bind me, and so I choose to think differently. Once you begin those new thought patterns, the change comes. Those once negative neural pathways become weaker, and newer, healthier pathways emerge and take over.

I love it. It’s real science and it’s real God. And it’s why He told us how we think about things matter. We choose how we think. He gave us the gift of a sound mind. The Bible teaches that we have the mind of Christ, after all.

Do you find yourself depressed? Is your glass always half empty? Do you see pitfalls instead of possibilities? Stop feeding those pathways. Start feeding new ones. If you need help and want to try what I did, here’s the link to my church’s website.

www.churchofthehighlands.com

TAKE MY 30 DAY CHALLENGE. Listen to one message a day for 30 days. It could change the way you think, and in turn, change your life. There’s nothing hinky or weird about it, I promise. Click on the “Media” tab  to get started. It doesn’t matter which message you choose. Of course, mine is not the only life giving church out there, but it’s the one that helped me.