Keep Your Lamp Full

Have you looked around lately? Things are kind of bad out there. It’s enough to make a person ask, “Isn’t this enough?” I heard about a baby that was born in Canada, and there was no sex declared on the birth certificate. The parents want to wait and let the child choose that for themselves. I mean how bad does it really have to be before the Father looks to the Son and says, “Saddle up your horse, Jesus.”

I didn’t used to think about end times much. I knew Revelation was super tough to understand, and who knew who was right about how the end of the world will happen? All I knew is that I didn’t know, and I decided to just trust all that to God and think about easier things. Scarlett O’Hara’s got nothing on me.

But that was before. That was before things got this bad. Now, it’s hard to look around at the world and not think that surely Jesus will come back soon.

We don’t really have to tackle Revelation to get a glimpse into end times. In Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonian believers, he talks about how it will go down, and the things to look for when the time is close. It basically describes our present world. Maybe it’s referring to now, maybe it’s not. But if we are wise, we will live as if it’s now. Does that mean we build a bunker, hoard food, stockpile weapons, quit our jobs and preach on street corners about how the End is Near?

th.jpgI don’t think so.

The Bible tells us to live, but to live with our eyes turned to the sky… expecting the return of Jesus (Luke 21). Jesus told a parable to teach us about the time of His return and how things would go down. (Also not in Revelation, but in Matthew 25.) So ten virgins showed up for a wedding carrying oil burning lamps to wait for the bridegroom and the wedding feast. All of their lamps had oil, but only five of the virgins had brought extra oil. When the bridegroom did appear, five virgins had lamps that were empty. While waiting, (and sleeping- the bridegroom didn’t show for a long time), their lamps burned through all of the oil in them.

Quickly, they begged for oil from those who had thought to bring extra, (It’s a classic case of being caught with one’s pants down.) but they sent the unprepared virgins away to go buy oil from a merchant. When they had filled their lamps, they returned only to find the festivities had started, and they were left out. They knocked on the door, the bridegroom answered, but he did not recognize them then, and did not let them in. It was too late, the ship had sailed.

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Here’s the thing. To the untrained eye, I imagine that all ten virgins looked the same. (Hint: the ten virgins represent the church. The Bridegroom is Jesus.) They are appropriately dressed and carrying their lamps. But the moment the bridegroom appears, the five without oil suddenly realize their mistake, and what is missing becomes painfully evident.

I think the moral to the story is it’s not too late until it’s too late, and we don’t know when it’s gonna be too late, so we need to keep our lamps full all the time.

Regardless of what you believe about how the end is going to play out, I think we can all agree we have to be prepared. We prepare by filling our lamps. Luke 21:36 says, “Watch therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” Meaning, evaluate yourself. Make sure you are ready. Check your lamp. Pray that you are worthy to escape what’s coming so that you can stand blameless before Christ on the day of His return. Just because you believe there is a God, or your name is on a church roster somewhere, doesn’t mean your lamp is full. (Matthew 7:22) Jesus seemed to be expecting about half of the church to show up with empty lamps when He returns. That’s not good.

Live life! Love life! But be ready to leave it behind without a single backwards glance. (We can’t act like Lot’s wife. There is nothing we own or possess that is better than being in glory with Jesus. Luke 17:28-33) Stay close to Jesus. Be full with your relationship to Him. It is Jesus who fills our lamps. It is Jesus that makes us worthy.

It’s true. Things are looking bad out there. But Jesus is coming, and that is good!

Chin up!

 

Get Back Up

Lately, the days have been hard. I won’t go into much, because, hey… we’ve all got issues going on, right? Mine are no more challenging than yours, but in the midst of some other challenges, I lost my mother unexpectedly a month ago. Not. Good.

Now, as I go through the business of my day, the thought hits me and I remember… “Oh, yes, my mom is gone.” Or I think, “I need to call and check on mom.” Ugh. It takes the wind right out of my sails when it happens.

I’ve had a lot of people encourage me to embrace the grieving process. I’m not a fan. I know from nursing school that there is an accepted formula for the stages of grief. I get it. I understand that the feelings I am having are normal. I understand that it is my brain’s way of graduating me to my new normal… the one where my mom is gone. It would be completely socially acceptable for me to be in denial, or to be sad, or angry or all of the above.

Back 22 years ago, when Matthew and I lost our baby son, many people encouraged us to join a support group where we could process our grief. I know that support groups help lots of people, but we just didn’t see the use in going to a weekly meeting that would remind us that we lost our child. But that’s what we do in our society. We group together and talk about our woes.

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I’m not interested in socially acceptable.

We get knocked down. In this life, we suffer loss, failure, betrayal, illness and more. No one is exempt.

Aren’t you glad you chose to read this blog today?

We can choose to go the socially acceptable route and process our losses like the scientists tell us that it should go, or we can just get back up.

Take Joshua, in Joshua Chapter Seven of the Old Testament, for example. Because of the shortcoming of one man, Achan, Israel found itself once again losing in battle to its enemy. Talk about a failure. People died! After the tail whipping they got, Joshua and his followers ripped their perfectly good tunics, fell on their faces, and wallowed in their loss.

That is until God told them to cut it out.

God actually said, “Get up. Why are you down on your faces like that?” Joshua 7:10.

God then went on to tell them why they had landed in the spot they were in, and what they needed to do to fix it and move on. He didn’t tell them to continue meeting that way, in a group there on the floor, crying and wailing over their losses and failures.

To tell you the truth, I could join Joshua’s pity party at any moment of the day right now. The hurt is still so raw and real to me. There have been times over the last few weeks that I have felt guilt over moments of laughing or enjoying myself… it just didn’t seem right to me. Crying. Crying seems right.

I don’t like where I am. I much prefer joy and happiness. Yes, I have suffered a great loss, but there are things that I still need to do, a purpose I still have to fulfill. And I don’t think all this sadness and disappointment does much to honor my mom,  fix the other issues in my life, or show gratitude for the life I do have.

Besides, followers of God have always been getting up people.

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When I think of the person I want to be, I can’t help but think of the old school push puppets. Remember those? When you pushed with your thumbs on the base of the toy, the puppet would collapse. But when you’d let go, the puppet would spring back to life just like before. I loved those. I was easily entertained.

Yes. We get knocked down. But we don’t have to stay down. I either trust God in my failure, loss or disappointment, or I don’t. I trust that, in some way, my trial is a part of a grander plan, a plan for which I can only see pieces and parts. A plan that is for my good. If that’s the case, then I trust Him even when things don’t go the way I wanted them to go.

If I really trust Him, I don’t let things keep me on the floor sobbing next to my pal, Joshua.

I get back up.

What’s Best For Me

One of my favorite birthday cards came from my best friend, or maybe I gave it to her. I can’t honestly remember. The front had a very sweet birthday wish, and when the card was opened, it read, “Okay, now let’s talk about me”. Or something like that. You get the gist. It was funny to me because the two of us joke about that so much… you know, things being all about us. We both have a healthy awareness of our own shortcomings in that area.

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It’s in our human nature to be selfish. We come into this world demanding that our needs be met twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As infants, it’s a matter of survival, as adults, it’s just plain unattractive. Have you met the person, who, above all else makes sure their needs are going to be met? That person who rarely considers the desires of others? The person who says,

“I’ve got to do what is best for me”?

I have been that person at times. I have focused on my needs and my wants first. I have also been the person who stood my ground, fought the good fight, given of myself until I had nothing left to give and then still said, “I have to do what is best for me.”

You too? Well, glory. Join the club, we have jackets! Fighting the selfish nature inside all of us is a daily battle. It is a battle that started in the Garden of Eden, and it is a battle humanity will fight until the day of Christ’s return and our sin nature dies forever.

But do you feel like it’s getting worse? Because I feel like it’s getting worse.

All this doing what’s best for me business is swelling to ridiculous proportions. I’m weary of getting phone calls and emails from friends whose lives have been torn apart because their spouse had decided to do what was best for them, and somehow that meant leaving their families behind. And by the way, these aren’t unsaved, un-churched, don’t know how this thing is supposed to go kind of people. I’m talking about people who are in Christian ministry who have served in the church for decades. I mean if we can’t hold it together, how can we lead others to hold it together?

These are perilous times. Paul told Timothy in his second recorded letter to him, this piece of prophesy:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

As followers of Christ, and as ministers of His gospel of peace, we are to be the very opposite of the things in that list. Notice the first in the list is that in the last days people will be lovers of self. I believe it is mentioned first because selfishness is a characteristic of the others.

The one in the list that hit me the hardest was the last one. I do not want to have the “appearance of godliness”, but deny its power. How many of us claim Christ, appear to live godly lives, but do not walk in the power of God?

To give in to selfishness, and other things like it, means we deny the power of God at work in our lives. It means in the face of our unique circumstances, we do not trust Him to meet our needs. So we toss it all away and say, “I have to do what’s best for me”.

Even on His worst day, Jesus never said that.

From the crucifixion cross He blessed, forgave, and cared for other people. I know none of us is Jesus, but He is the standard. To live a life of godliness is more about the motivation than the action. We can be busy doing many things with wrong motivation and live powerless lives. We look good and holy on the outside, but we will cave as the screws begin to turn and our weak faith begins to show.

Being selfish is effortless. We can be selfish without even thinking about it, it comes so naturally to us. It’s living a life that mirrors Jesus that takes the effort. But the day we gave our lives away, we also gave up the right to self. So with the mercy of each new day, we die to self and take up our cross anew.

Because it’s not about us.

I Hate the Devil, Do You?

Matthew and I believe, with our whole hearts, that the local church is the hope of the world. We have tried to teach our kids that truth as they grow up and make choices about where they invest their time, talents, and energies. But as I look around at the church in America today, I wonder if the church, itself, truly believes it is the hope of the world.

3500 churches close their doors forever in America every year. Our church is part of a church planting organization (arcchurches.com) that plants upward of 100 churches a year, but clearly the odds are not in our favor there. Only one in five churches in America is growing. The church in our society appears more and more irrelevant in our culture. In large part, the church has turned its focus inward in its effort to merely survive. I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind when He told Peter, “Upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail over it.” (Matthew 16:18)

When we look around today, it sure doesn’t seem like we are prevailing over much of anything. How can we when 65% of American believers don’t even believe the devil is a real being? Some believe he is only a symbol of the evil in the world, rather than a real enemy of everything for which we stand. Why fight a symbol?

I have always known that the devil was real, but until a few years back, I figured he was far busier with bigger fish than me, and I had little to worry about from him.  I tended to just ignore him and focus on… me.

Until the day he stood squarely in my path, and I was forced to deal with him, that is.

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Some believers have a live-and-let-live mentality about the enemy. They think if they don’t bother him, he won’t bother them. My mom used to tell me that about bees. She was mostly right, but sometimes I got stung anyway.

If we are going to believe the things that Jesus said about God and heaven, then we have to believe the things He said about the devil and hell.

In Matthew 4, Jesus does battle with the devil in the desert. I don’t believe for one second that there was any real difficulty there for Jesus, but I think He showed us how to do it because He knew we would have to do it.

In Luke 10, Jesus said, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening.” Satan was once a perfect, beautiful worship leader in heaven who took his eyes off God and put them on himself, thinking that he was greater than the God who created him. He was cast out in a flash.

Following that Luke 10 verse, Jesus goes on to say that, “I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to destroy all the enemy’s power, and nothing will ever hurt you.”

It is our calling as the church to magnify the Lord, not the enemy, but we cannot just pretend he isn’t there doing his best to gain ground in our country, cities, families and in our churches. Just look around.  If we think we face a symbolic, weak or a disinterested enemy, then all the better for him.

Are we really willing to give him our marriages? Our children? Our morals and godly standards? Are we just going to cower in our corners, or focus elsewhere, while he takes what he wants from us?

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I have spent a good bit of time lately, in the trenches, fighting my enemy. I have gone to Ephesians and pulled out my armor, and I am learning better how to put it on and stand against him. The Bible refers to the church as the army of God. We fight not against enemies of flesh, but enemies and rulers of this dark world and against spiritual forces in the spiritual realm.

As I stand against him in the authority of God Almighty, my fear of him dissipates. He cannot have what is rightfully mine. He cannot have what God has already claimed in His name. There is no weapon he can form that will prevail against me or mine. He is a loser. He is fighting from a place of failure, but because of Jesus, I am fighting from victory! I rather enjoy reminding him of that.

I really do hate the devil. Do you? Have you given it much thought? If the church really is the hope of the world, maybe you should. Maybe we all should.

Manufacturer’s Recommendations

Three years ago this last week, I started a new job. Prior to that, I had gone through a season where I learned what it must have been like for Israel to wait on their deliverance out of Egypt. While I loved the people I worked with, I desperately felt like I needed a new opportunity. I was in constant fear that my job was going to be eliminated, and the working conditions continued to get worse and worse with no real light at the end of the tunnel. I waited and waited. I would like to say I was patient in the waiting, but I was not. When I finally stopped putting limits on God with regard to the kind of job I was willing to take and fully trust in Him, He opened up the most unexpected door for me.

In all honesty, I was not really sure exactly what kind of job I had applied for. All I knew for certain was that I met the qualifications, and hoped against hope that this was the place for me. It was. I left a job that I had ten years of training and investment in, one in which I considered myself very well versed, for one I knew very little about. Over the last three years, I have had a lot of on-the-job training, and a lot that I have just had to figure out on my own.

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One of the things I have figured out on my own has to do with Manufacturer’s Recommendations. Prior to this job, I never really paid must attention to those. In case you have not, either, let me enlighten you. When you buy pretty much any product with a label or package insert, you will find printed, among other things, the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper use, care, maintenance and storage of that product. I have learned that when someone calls my office with a question about a piece of medical equipment they are using or have purchased, my first reply is to ask them what the manufacturer’s recommendations say with regard to the question they are asking. Usually, they have no idea, but almost without fail, the answer to the question they are asking me can be found in those.

I could speculate on an answer to the questions that are generally asked, but why would I do that when I can go to the very one who made the product, who knows the most about the product, and find my answers?

You guys are smart cookies, I bet you know where I am going with this.

So often, we have questions about how this life is supposed to work. Situations arise, things happen, troubles come, and we are often left wondering the best way to deal with them. Many times, we don’t even think to see what the Manufacturer’s recommendations are for our situation. We seek advice and direction from others who are knowledgeable without even considering taking a moment to read the instructions already printed out for us.

I do that. I run to the people I lean on for help. More often than not, they do just what I do at work. They send me to the Manufacturer’s recommendations. If the people you seek out for help in your life are not directing you to those recommendations, then you need to find new advisors. If they are not pointing to you God’s holy word, then you are taking a huge risk.

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When someone comes to me needing to know how to store, or clean, or properly use a piece of medical equipment, I can usually come up with some pretty sound advice all on my own. But I have learned that what I know pales in comparison to what the creator, or manufacturer, of that piece of equipment knows. The same is true with this life.

Everything we need to know to navigate this life is written in the Bible, God’s recommendations. We just sometimes forget to look there, first.

Walmart Momma

Even though I have recently opted to order my groceries online from Walmart, thus avoiding the dreaded weekly grocery shopping trip (this is Ah-mazing!) I still find myself, on occasion, inside the store. I do try very hard to avoid these in-store visits as I am not a fan of the Walmart environment, generally speaking. If you are unsure to what I am referencing, a quick tour of the Facebook group, “People of Walmart”, will enlighten you.

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Yet as I mentioned, I did find myself inside the store recently. I had not been there too long before I heard the familiar exchange between the non-compliant child and the desperate mom. I’m not sure exactly what the story was because the pair was on the next aisle up from me, but the volume of the exchange was such that I could hear it clearly, and imagine for myself.

Child: Wailing

Mom: “Stop it, Jackson. I said no.”

Child: Wailing

Mom: “Stop it, Jackson, or I’m going to put your toy back.”

Child: Increased wailing

Mom: “Stop it, Jackson, or I’m going to put your toy back and you will get a spanking. I said no.”

Child:  More wailing

I’d like to say this interchange ended promptly with Jackson stopping it, retaining his toy, and avoiding a spanking. But it did not end, and yet he still kept the toy, and as far as I could tell, did not suffer a spanking.

Mostly, I was just thankful to be past all that with my kids. If my grown kids are with me at Walmart crying over a toy and I am threatening to spank them, I have bigger problems to deal with.

I will say that I was tempted to walk around the corner, go up the next aisle, take Jackson’s toy and whack him on the tush… hug his momma, offer to buy her a coffee, and give her some free advice. Clearly she needed to grow a little bit of a backbone with this little man.

But I understand.

Parenting is hard. No parent wants to take from a child. We are hardwired by our heavenly Father to give to our children. Matthew 7 says,

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

So taking from them just does not often compute. Still, that young Walmart momma could learn a bit from the Lord as He parented the willful children of Israel.

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God laid out for the people of Israel how the relationship with Him was going to go. By way of summary, in Deuteronomy 30, He tells them, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” God had given them the parameters, actions that would bring blessings to them and actions that would bring curses. He was very clear, but God has a heart.

So often the nation of Israel would go its own way, and through the prophets God would remind them of their covenant with Him. He would remind them of the curses that would befall them if they did not change their ways and submit their lives to Him alone. He was not unlike that young mother in Walmart, pleading again and again for His children to choose life!

Why? Because like that young mother, God understood better the ramifications of disobedience. While Israel could not fully understand the consequences that would befall them, God did. He could see what they could not. Yet so often, their willful disobedience left Him no choice but to hand down the curses He had promised.

It was important for God to follow through for two reasons. First, to not follow through would make Him a liar. Could a God who did not hand down promised consequences, then be trusted to also hand out promised blessing? Second, God had a plan for His people and their descendants. From the tribe of Judah would one day come the Savior of the world. There was a bigger picture that the children of Israel could not see.

That’s the free advice I would give that little momma in Walmart. I know she was tired. That wailing boy was a handful, but she was dangerously close to losing her credibility with him. I understand why she didn’t want to follow through with her promises of punishment, but she needed to understand why it was important that she did. And there is a bigger picture to consider than one toy in the middle of Walmart. It is a picture of a life in the making, a character to be shaped, and a future man of integrity to be raised.

Yep. Parenting is hard. And for all my young momma friends, hang in there. Stick to your guns. Be steadfast in your love for your little ones, even if you have to follow through on promised consequences. After all, that’s loving them, too.

The Blessing of Honor

As many of you know, my mother passed away just over a week ago. It was completely unexpected and it has been quite an adjustment for our family. My mother was a great mom, and getting used to living life without her in it will be new territory for us all. I spent the last week mostly trying to take care of my dad. He’s so strong and made of good stuff, but even this was enough to shake him a bit. More than anything, I have wanted him to be okay. So I have tried to honor him in the ways that I have attended to him and loved him.

FullSizeRender.jpgAs I have tried to be intentional with dad this week, it has made me think a lot about this whole idea of honor. God thought enough of it that He included it in His top ten. Exodus 20:12 says it. “Honor your father and mother, so that it may be well with you, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

When I was a kid growing up, I knew that my mom and dad worked hard in their community to live lives of integrity and good character. As a young child, and even into my teenage years, it was important to me that I never did anything that would bring them dishonor. I knew that there was nothing I could do that would cause them not to love me, but I could do plenty to dishonor and embarrass them. That desire to honor them kept me from doing

So

Many

Things.

I used to think honoring my parents was for them, and to a point, it was. But ultimately, it was for my own benefit. That particular commandment is the only one that, if kept, comes with a promise for the keeper. If I choose to keep this commandment, I am promised a life of blessing… a long life of blessing… in the land God gives me.

If you have trouble with that… take a moment and think of families you know. Ones with at least two kids. Ones with at least two kids where one has chosen to honor their parents, and another has chosen not to honor them. How is life different for these two children? I’ll bet you find one struggling in some way, and it will likely be the one who is dishonoring their parents.

When kids choose to dishonor their parents, they grow up into adulthood with an inability to be under authority. This makes it hard to be successful in school, in jobs… in all areas of life, really. They also find it hard to submit to God’s authority in their lives. We are always under some kind of authority. If we do not learn early how to be under authority successfully, we will always struggle. I believe this is why God put it in His top ten.

All of my four children have passed through a high school internship at our church called “2:52”. It is grounded in the verse, Luke 2:52. “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”. It is a great opportunity, and all of my children bear the imprint of passing through that internship. My youngest, Evan, is spending his second summer in this internship. They are BUSY. They are gone, gone, gone doing this, that, and the other thing. All good stuff with all good people, but still, it feels like I sometimes lose track of who he is with and where.

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I managed to snag him for a moment yesterday to remind him of Luke 2:51. “Then he (Jesus) went down to Nazareth with them (his parents) and was subject to them”. You see, even Jesus was subject to his parents. This comes before the next verse where it says… AND he grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. First, Jesus was subject to his parents, and THEN he received those blessings.

My dad blessed me this week and allowed me to honor my mother one final time at her funeral. As I stood to speak before the crowd gathered to celebrate her life, I was not sure I would be able to get through what I wanted to say about the woman that I called Mom. But a supernatural peace, the one that passes all understanding, came upon me and I honored my Proverbs 31 Mother. I was able to “rise and call her blessed”, and “honor her for the works her hands had done”.