Sunday, September 2, 2012

Special Edition! Emptying My Blackened Heart

It is not Thursday.  I am not writing from Matthew.  But this needs to be said.

Let's begin with a confession.  I have been drifting lately.  The world and worldly things have called and my eyes have turned from the cross.  In other words, I have not been opening my Bible other than for work-related tasks.  My prayer life has been lacking at best.

So, on the way to church this morning, I was wondering what to do.  The first Sunday of the month in our church offers communion.  I wrestled with a decision because I am aware that to take communion unworthily is a big deal.  I could pray for forgiveness and make it right before I took it, but I knew that to ask for forgiveness was going to mean I would really need to make a change.  And feeling comfortable enough in the path I was currently walking, I wasn't sure if I felt like changing.  How's that for honesty, now?

An odd thing happened when I walked into the sanctuary.  The thought came to me (obviously from the Holy Spirit, though I did not hear it as clearly as I usually do) that this was not about me.  Not at all. I could not withhold my communion with the Lord because of me.  I would never be worth enough.  I could never bring Him enough for Him to say, "Okay, that's good."  It was time to let myself go.

I began to sing in worship.  I had to.  Once again, I realized that just because I am unworthy, that does not make Him any LESS worthy.  It just makes the gap bigger. I became embarrassed of the times I felt good enough to come into His presence and worship.  At least now, I saw my imperfection.  And in that state, I saw that He was the same God, loving no more and no less than He always has.

Why do I try anyway to bring Him my filthy rags and think they can be acceptable in light of Christ's sacrifice?  It is like when my kids draw me a picture.  I can't frame it as a Rembrandt, but I can treasure it nonetheless.  Not because of its technical beauty, but because of the sentiment in thinking that my child had me in mind when she drew it.  She gave me her best work to please me.  I think I like that better than perfection.

Similarly, God doesn't take our good works and hang them on the walls of heaven.  He takes them to His heart because we do them please Him.  He loves our worship, because it acknowledges that we are less and He is greater.  That we kind of get it.

He will always be worthy of my worship, whether I come to Him as an ugly rat who chose not to focus all week on Him or the self-righteous blind one who thought I could.

So what did I do?  Did I take communion?  Yes.  I saw how much further away from perfect I was and asked God to clean me and turn me around.  All He needed was a willing heart.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Gotta Have Friends

Matthew 18:20 
"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

I will not pretend that I understand the divine nature of the Holy Spirit.  How He can be in us and around us and with everyone else all at the same time?  My finite mind was not made to comprehend that wonder, but just to be awed by it. I do know that, while I serve a magnificent God Who can do that, He has not left me completely in the dark.

Great things can be discovered on your own.  Want to hide in the woods?  Go right ahead, Mr. Emerson, find your "enlightenment" at Walden.  God even tells us to retreat to our prayer closet to find Him.  (The context of that text was a reminder not to be boastful to others, praying for the benefit of others who see you.  However, you may also find solitude free of distraction and more amiable to better focus and connection.)

But I don't think we were meant to travel our journey on this earth alone.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-11 tells us, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?"

It is a joke among my friends that I am on Facebook often.  I don't feel guilty about it anymore. I love knowing what is going on with people close to me.  I have made many friendships, improved others, and learned an awful lot from these people as well.  What does that tell me?  To quote Solomon again, nothing is new under the sun.  I have yet to come across a problem someone else has not seen.  And from others who have not seen the problems I have come sympathy and prayers.  This is God's physical provision, I think, as we work through our faith.  Making the unseen seen.  If my friends can speak loving words to me, how much more love is the Father feeling for me?

Ten years ago, when my oldest was a baby, there was no Facebook.  I lived in a neighborhood filled with other mothers at home with their babies, and I did not know a one of them.  I was lonely, and I was sad.  When my baby was 6 months old, I finally called an old friend, whose child was a few months older than mine.  She had gone through many of the same problems I did with her baby, and I could hardly believe the relief I felt in knowing that.  

We were meant to hold each other up and carry one another's burdens.  They are too heavy for one person.  And while Jesus is standing there with his light yoke, ready to switch with us, sometimes we are just too blind to see Him.  Let's be thankful for the helping hands around us, doing their part to hand us over to loving guidance of the Lord.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why the Child-Like Get the Kingdom of Heaven

Matt. 18:3

“And he said, 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

This may be tough for us to understand. Many children today are not very humble. They can be very whiny and complain about not having everything they want. (Or is that just my kids?)

But one thing about kids: they accept authority.  I was always shocked that whenever I put my kids in a time out spot, they stayed there, not trying to get out.  Whether they admit it or not, kids require authority. They need it. More than anything else that scares them, kids are scared of someone not being there. They need to know that there is constantly someone thinking about them, taking care of them. Perfect, because that is what God is for all of us.

Something happens as we age. We learn to do things for ourselves. Feeding ourselves, dressing ourselves, tying our own shoes. We gain responsibility. We make our own meals, choose our own clothes, buy our own shoes.  (Fun!) We become authority. And we become adamant when our authority is challenged. (Have you ever had to say, “Because I said so”?) Our need for authority over us slowly becomes less and less visible.

Less visible, but not less necessary!

As adults, we start seeing we can do more. And somewhere along the line, we likely reach the point of thinking we can do it all. It is adults, not children, who think they can earn their way to heaven by doing more good than bad. I can do this myself, we think. I don't need God.

But if you tell a young child they are wrong, they will believe you. In his heart, the truth will be fresh. Not like an adult's heart, where years of denial may have hardened their hearts.

So Jesus tells us to change.  How can we go backwards?  By doing what is just as hard.  By letting go.

  1. Let go of your need to be right.  Accept that you can be wrong(I am a sinner.)
  2. Let go of your own authority.  Accept that God's way is the best way.  (I cannot save myself.)
  3. Let go of any plan you have to follow God on your own terms.  Accept Jesus's sacrifice for you. (Jesus died in my place.)
  4. Let go of your old self, desires, and "rights." Accept the Kingdom of God. (I will be welcomed into the presence of the Lord.)

As hard as it is to let go, the reward will be worth it.  Stop working so hard.  The kids aren't!  I have messy rooms in my house to prove it. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

8 Ways I Die to Myself

Matt. 16:24-27

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

We are not often found in the place of choosing between life and death.

BUT, how often are we in the place of choosing our own comfort or someone else's good?  Over someone else's anything?

There are plenty of ways I need to die to myself for Jesus, to make him known.  But I am just going to focus here on how I am dying to myself for the sake of my family, first. Let me tell you how I need to take up my cross these days with school out for the summer.

     1. My Time
           As I write this, of course, I am on the computer.  My children are creating their own entertainment.  It is not good.  If they are quiet, they are purposefully trying to BE quiet so I will not hear what they are getting into.  If they are not quiet, they are fighting.
          *Dying to myself here means getting off the computer and setting the ball rolling for the kids, either doing something with them or guiding them to an appropriate routine.

     2.  My Plans
           My eldest child was just called to the carpet for pestering her siblings.  As has become routine for her, she admitted to no wrong-doing.  In our "discussion," a disrespectful attitude come forth.  She was grounded.  I hate grounding, because it leaves a miserable child here to sulk.  It is tortuous to those left in the house, and also means no trip to the pool.
          *Dying to myself here means putting aside what I want to do to teach a vital lesson in respect.  It also means making others in the house die to themselves too, which they likely do not want to do.

     3.  My Taste
           Now that school is out, there are three children to accompany me on errands.  Usually once or twice a week, these errands would include a stop at Starbucks.  While the littlest one could be appeased with a small serving of whipped cream from said stop, older ones would not be so easily gratified.  And  I am not a mom ready start a coffee habit for the older ones, even if we had the funds to do it.  Neither am I so mean to stop for a goody for myself and let them watch.  So, we will bypass Starbucks for a while.
         *Dying to myself could mean caffeine withdrawal.

     4. My Expenditures
          Out shopping, sure I could use a new pair of shorts.  But probably not as much as a very active little boy needs a pair of sneakers that does not expose his socks.  And when there is only $3 in my wallet, that means 3 children get ice cream after the ball game.  For any who know me, that is a HUGE sacrifice.
          *Dying to myself means giving up "things".  You might think that would be tough for someone as materially-oriented as myself.  But in reality, it feels good.

     5. My Leisure
          I run.  When there was just one child here, I was able to send her for a play date now and again to get running time in.  It is tougher to find homes for three children.  So running times must be altered. Alternately, taking one child to the library was once a quick affair.  With three, it takes a good deal more time, and not always in the section of the library I prefer to spend my time.
          *Dying to myself means living with new or lengthened times for certain activities.

     6. My Expectations
           Children at home means messes, plain and simple.  More stuff comes out, less stuff is put away.  And while I try to set the standard that anything taken out must be put away, it is not always put away neatly or exactly where it came from.   And more lunches eaten at home means more messes in the kitchen.  Again, clean up requires asking the kids to try the best they can, rewarded by a happy mom.  But scrubbing to Mama Standards is not a daily standard yet.
         *Dying to myself means the house might be a mess and I will have to accept that or wear myself out trying to keep up.

     7. My Thoughts
          The escapades of my fictional characters dominated my thoughts for decent periods of time during the school year.  They were interrupted periodically to address the needs of the child at home.  But as the saying goes, "One child is like having one child.  Two children is like having ten."  So what is it like with three?  A circus.  (And for those of you with any more than that, my hat is tipped to you.) There are now multiple thought patterns to follow, after each one starts with, "Hey, Mom."  Unaware that a sibling has just begun another conversation, these two trains just left the station in opposite directions.  I am left to stretch between the two.  (Sometimes three... or more!)  Also add in the new concerns of, "Is this appropriate TV for the child?" or "Has this child warranted the privilege for which she is asking?" or "Would it make sense allow all the children's friends play here together, or should we send some away?" The amount of time in my own world is negligible.  (I have been working on this blog post for a whole week now.)
        *Dying to self means shrinking my world a bit.

     8.  My Space
          My days used to find hours in my chair, my lap comforted with one or more kitties as I wrote.  The cats are a bit too afraid to come out now with all the ruckus.  However, my lap is not always empty when I do find myself in the chair.  One or more child may find her way into it for snuggles and kisses.
          *Okay.  This one might be more life than death.

Maybe none of these applied to you.  I am sorry to ramble on about my own applications here.  But feel free to die to yourself and read it anyway.  ;)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mmmm... cookies

Matt. 16:6
“'Be careful, Jesus said to them. 'Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

As I write this, I am on a food moderation plan.  (I hate the word diet!)  I am not doing it for the sake of how I look, but so that I can have more energy and speed when I run.  Therefore, I cannot hang up a bikini or something next to the refrigerator to motivate me to stick with it.  I cannot post a picture of energy on my cookie cabinet.  I have to resist temptation on my own.

But I like my sweets.  I eat them a lot.  (Boy, it is really hard to write this.)  And you know what is in cookies? and cakes?  and donuts? (I need to stop this.)

Yeast.  I read once that God's use of yeast as a metaphor for sin was appropriate because it is something that grows and spreads.  I am pretty sure God is not against cake (though in my mind, He prefers ice cream.  Heavenly Hash, anyone?), but he uses it as great example.  Once the yeast gets worked into the dough, it has become a part of the whole entity.  In the same way, sin covers the whole being of a person.

The yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees sounded good.  (So do soft pretzels.)  They spoke about abiding the Law.  That should be right, shouldn't it?  They were missing God's heart in the matter.  They were not following the Law for God's sake, but for their own glory.

Today, there are a lot of churches and individuals who claim to have God's favor. They want us to listen.  (Tip one, if you ever hear someone saying "Follow me"- and it isn't Jesus - run the other way!)  There are cults out there that might even sound good (like muffins).  They might even claim to follow Jesus.  But there is a hitch.  Maybe they are not following Jesus as God, but just as a man.  Or maybe they follow a Jesus who requires certain deeds in addition to faith to enter Heaven.  Or the opposite - a Jesus who lets all "good" people into Heaven regardless of their faith. This is the yeast of the Pharisees.  Don't let it work through your mind.  Don't let it spread through your family.

So how do you know?
     1.  You need to have accepted the saving Grace of God in Jesus.  This invites the Holy Spirit to dwell within you.
     2.  You must be in daily prayer so that you will recognize the voice of God.
     3.  You must study and be taught Word of God to know what His standards are.

Follow God and He will not let you down.  Follow man and you will ruin your diet with his cookies.  And you will not appreciate their taste when you see them worn around your middle.

Okay.  Back to my chicken.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The 5-Second Rule

Matt. 15:11

“What goes into man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.”

I vacuum every day.  Not every room in the house every day, but some rooms, such as the kitchen receive attention several times a week.  There are 6 reasons for this.  Three are kids, three are cats.  And because I have likely vacuumed for the day, when that middle child drops his (insert food here) on the floor, I usually feel safe telling him to go ahead and eat it.  The 5-second rule in my house extends much longer.  After 3 kids, I have learned that no matter how long the dirt and germs have been there, chances are what jumps onto that cookie isn't going to kill my kid.

Is there still the possibility that said dropped food gathered some dirt on the floor?  Oh yes, quite likely as a matter of fact.  But I have made myself feel better by vacuuming and/or mopping earlier in the day.  Because truly, it won't make much of a difference in his overall health.

The disease that is more troublesome lately has been the name calling in our house.  No one will call out, "Mo-om, he ate a cookie off the floor!"  But daily, hourly, sometimes even by the minute I can hear, "Mo-om, she called me _____" (again, go ahead and fill in the blank here.)

These are more heart issues than body issues.  (Matthew 12:34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.)  It is a lot easier to fix the body than it is the heart.

In the passage for today, the Pharisees are once again trying to trip up Jesus.  They seem like tattle tales as they point out that the disciples did not wash their hands before they ate.  Really, Pharisees?  I can see Jesus's annoyance.  They weren't concerned about what they were eating.  They were just looking for a way to make Jesus look foolish.

And in typical Jesus fashion, he turned the tables and pointed out their heart condition to them.

To me, it seems these days that we overly concerned about our outside appearances.  We diet.  We exercise.  We try our best to look good.  

But how much do we work on our inside?  The country is concerned with the epidemic of overweight children.  Are we as worried about sarcastic and disrespectful children?  (If we were, The Simpsons would have been cancelled a long time ago). Even more than exercise programs (which do have some value), I would love to see classes that train children -- of all ages -- in kindness, especially kindness of the mouth.  

Because that's a fruit that will never go bad -- not even after 5 seconds on an unwashed floor.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Matt. 14:14

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

When I think of Jesus coming to Earth, I often think of the pain it must have been for him to cram the Spirit being He is into a flesh-and-bone shell.  I think of how difficult it would be to deal with people who are finite in their knowledge and imagination, where He is infinite.  I think of the many who scorned and spat upon Him (and those who still do) when He did nothing to deserve it.

There was no reason to come here to us, in my mind, than to bring us to perfection.

But he loved and enjoyed us, even in our imperfect state.

Once again, I will draw on my experience as a mother.  Babies are imperfect.  They are completely reliant on their parents to feed them, clean them, and meet their every need.  And they whine about it.  There is no "thank you" uttered in the first year (and often well after that).  We don't take care of our children for the thanks we will get.  We do it because we love them.
Jesus is not waiting for a thank you.  He loves us unconditionally.  And He will always meet our needs.  He wants to do it because He loves us.  That, I think, is what compassion is.  Doing something with no motive but love.

In the story from which this verse is taken, Jesus had just been told about his cousin's beheading. Clearly, he was distraught (Matthew does not specifically say so, but I think so, since He needed time alone). When he came back, there were more than 5,000 people waiting for him.  He did not continue to dwell on what was bothering Him, but he drew himself into the needs of those at hand.  He did not see Himself, He saw the people. So, Jesus told the disciples not only could these people stay, but He was going to continue to care for them by feeding them (spiritually as well as nutritionally).  

It was just because of his love. He felt their pain.  And He was determined to love them through it.

I love his love.  Whenever I feel sad or alone, I usually don't want to talk about it.  How wonderful to serve a Savior who already knows.