Category Archives: Love

“Momfuddled” — What Works in Parenting?

momfuddled

Parenting is one of the hardest things ever.

Before you had children you pictured being swept away in the bliss of motherhood.  Aaaaah.

Well, sometimes you find that.

But now you also find that bringing up children is exhausting, confusing, demanding, gut wrenching, unending, and frightening.  You expend yourself until you’re worn to the nub.  You agonize, and worry, and feel inadequate.

I am a far from perfect parent.  When I was bringing up my children, I struggled. Sometimes I felt like I was the worst mom.

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But that’s why I want to write this blog.  I want all of the mothers out there who are struggling to have something to hold to that is true and solid.  In this world of a thousand different messages on how to raise your children, I want to give you the confidence of a few things that work.

In short, what works is reflecting the characteristics of God in your parenting.   God is loving and gracious.  He is also righteous. When you make these things the foundation of how you raise your children, you will feel like you have done the best you could do.

But what does this look like in practical terms?

Let’s start with the good stuff — LOVE.  Effective parenting involves loving your children the way that God loves you.  It’s the daily battle to remember that you are incredibly valued, and then pass this onto your kids.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  John 13:34

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What is the biggest expression of God’s love?  It’s that Jesus laid down his life.  Our love for our children must also be sacrificial.

Yay!  This is something we moms are good at!  It feels natural to sacrifice for our kids.

But there’s easy sacrifice, and there’s hard sacrifice.  Love is sacrificing for your children in ways that are uncomfortable, and take extra effort.   It’s getting on the floor and playing baby dolls, racecars, Barbies, Legos, Peppa Pig, etc. with them.  It’s doing that thing with them that they love, even though you’ve done it a thousand times before.

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It’s carving out time to read Bible stories with them and have family devotionals.  It’s praying with them at bedtime, and then listening to them talk about their day, even though you’re bone weary.  It’s swimming with them when it’s freezing cold because they love it so much.  It’s singing with them in the car.  It’s taking them on “dates.”   It’s having the talks with them that take forethought and intentionality.

I do want to mention that the goal of this is not to teach your children that the world revolves around them.  You can still set boundaries, so that they are considerate, and so you have some time for yourself.

But here’s the thing, moms.  You’re exhausted, and yet you’re also brimming over with all kinds of plans and dreams.  You want to do something cool, make a difference, change the world, be successful.  You want to fix up your house.  You want to involve your children in all kinds of activities.

It’s going to take a conscious, determined effort to make the important sacrifices, and not let everything else sap away all of your available energy.

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God’s love is also incredibly appreciative of our individual worth.  Jesus saw the leper, the sinful woman, the Samaritan woman, the tax collector.  Each of these was an important person in his eyes.  To him, the whole sum of the law and the prophets was, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”  (Matt 7:12)

Jesus was consideration personified.  He calls us to be the same.

This can be a challenge for us.  We just need our children to behave!

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And obedience is important.  I’ll talk about that in the next blog.  But if we’re going to love like God, we have to seek to listen and understand.  “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”  (James 1:19b)

When I surveyed my mom friends, they were vocal that respect is a crucial element of parenting.

  • “Instead of ignoring my daughter because her behavior is undesirable to me, I try to empathize with how she must feel in those moments.”
  • “Take the time to listen. When they are in preschool years ask them to tell you about the picture they brought home.  Talk to them like you’d want to be talked to!  When my son was an older teen he would come in to my side of the bed and talk to me every night when he’d get home.  I can’t help but believe that it’s because I always tried to listen to him.”
  • One empty nester friend told me how she expected her daughter to obey without discussion. She had a “just do it” approach, and didn’t allow her daughter to express what she was feeling. This led to a lot of conflict, and pushed her daughter away.
  • Another friend related how she and her husband treated their youngest child as they did their older ones, without realizing that he was different and needed a different approach. This proved to be very detrimental.

I will caution you, though, that even at 3 or 4 years old, your kid can do a better sales job on you than a used car dealer! Don’t let your child talk you out of what you know is right.  Be sure they know you are listening and that you care.  And then be firm.

The last thing I want to mention about God’s love is that it is positive.  It is so encouraging to me that Jesus named Peter the “Rock.”  He called Nathaniel a “true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.”  Jesus saw the best in people and believed in them.  He reflected the truth that, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Cor 13:7)

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We reflect God’s love for our children by believing in them and having hope for them.  We see the good in them and praise it.

If I could do it over again, I would work harder at being positive with my children.  As moms, we feel the burden of making sure our children turn out right.  We see the terrible consequences of a character flaw. The thing they need to change can become bigger to us than all of the things that are wonderful about them.  That was my tendency.

So we have to be intentional about praising our children.  We have to look for the things we can commend.  Moms, praise your children often! More than you correct them.  It will be as good for your heart as it will for theirs.

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In conclusion, the goal of love is that they will love. 

We love because he first loved us.”  I John 4:19

If there is one thing we can instill in our children, let it be a crazy love for God!  We do want our children to do the right thing.  But even more, we want them to do the right thing because their heart is so filled with inspiration that the obedience comes out of the overflow.

outdoor Nyla

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Crazy love has to be caught as much as it is taught.  They have to see it in you.

But this is good news, because this is something you can do.  You can have a great time falling more in love with God!  Start a gratitude journal. Find the love stories in the Bible.  Work on the doubt, bitterness and fear that hold you back.  Pray to know how much you are adored.

I pray that you would be able to comprehend, along with all the saints, how wide and long and high and deep his love is.” (Eph 3:18)

And then tell your children often how awesome you think the Lord is, and how amazing it is that he loves us.  Help them see him, and his faithfulness.

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As our children grow up, they will find that life is hard.  There will be so many assaults to their self-esteem.  There will be so many times when something goes wrong and they will wonder if God cares.

Teach him that God DOES care, and cares deeply.  Teach them to pray and reach out to the Lord when they are hurting.  Teach them the magical scriptures that are salve to the heart.  Teach them the ways that God has worked in their lives already.

Sister moms, I know, I know.  Parenting is intense.  And everyone keeps telling you something different to do.

But hold to this truth through the craziness: If you’re seeking to love as God loves, you are on the right track.

Love never fails.” (I Cor 13:8a)

Love covers over a multitude of sins.”  (I Peter 4:8)

(Stay tuned for Part II of “Momfuddled,” coming soon!)

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Loving our Neighbors

“I will come to judge you. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers, lying witnesses, and those who cheat workers out of their wages and oppress widows and orphans. I will also testify against those who deprive foreigners of their rights. None of them fear me,” says the LORD of Armies.  Mal 3:5

It’s  scary to think of being on trial before the Almighty God.  At this trial, God himself testifies against people. Yikes!  And he does it without delay, without continuances, like we can push for in the court system today.

What does God bear witness against?  Largely against mistreating others.

And while none of us may have stuck it to a widow or an immigrant lately, this verse makes it apparent that how we treat one another is uber serious to God.

Because what God is looking for is those who revere him enough to see that they have an obligation towards their fellow man.  As God is committed to us, he wants us to be committed to one another.

Here is how Biblical scholars define righteousness:  “God’s righteousness can be understood as God’s faithfulness to his people, where he fulfills his obligations to them. . . righteousness is also understood as God’s faithfulness to fulfill His obligations to human beings and His creation because as creator He has a relationship with them.”  (Rupen Das)

God sees himself as having a responsibility towards people.  As children of this same God, surely we should see that we also have a responsibility to our fellow human beings.

Look how God spelled this out from olden times:

 ”When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)

Leviticus 19 goes on to relate a whole slew of things not to do.  I’m abridging the passage here:

DO NOT: steal, lie, deceive one another, defraud or rob your neighbor, hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight,  curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, pervert justice, show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, go about spreading slander among your people, do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life, hate a fellow Israelite in your heart, seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

“Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the bottom line.  It always has been.

“But who is my neighbor?” we want to ask, just as the experts in the law inquired of Jesus in Luke 10.  We’re surrounded and overwhelmed by more needs than we could ever address.

Ken and I watched a movie over the weekend, “Of Mind and Music.”  It was about a neurologist in New Orleans who took some time off to grieve the loss of his mother.  As he walked through the city, he came across a female street musician/singer who was starting to exhibit signs of Alzheimer’s.  The neurologist ended up taking this woman in his own house to care for her, and then finding an assisted living placement for her.  When someone asked him why he was doing this for a random person on the streets, he answered, “Because I can.”

Instead of being overwhelmed, let’s ask, who CAN we help?  Who is in our path at this moment?

Ken and I went to a funeral on Sunday for the great aunt of our daughter in law.  We heard different people share about this special woman.  One was her neighbor, who talked about how much their relationship had meant to her over the years.  They were like family.  The neighbor’s children were always over at the woman’s house, and always came home with cookies or pieces of cornbread.  As the neighbor sat at her friend’s deathbed, she told her over and over again how grateful she was for her.

All of us have people “next door.”  They’re not all going to become our best buds, but some of them could become a blessing to us. And we could become a blessing to them.  I know this has been true for me.  My Latin neighbor down the street, Dee, is a great example.  We get together for coffee, visit when we’re outside, and chat on the phone.  Several times she’s brought her husband over to help with issues with our house.  I had a yard sale, and she came and sat next to me and supported me.  She has told me several times that she is thankful for our friendship.

But even though I know this, I still I get tired and busy, and I stop reaching out.

One thing that has helped me as I’ve been thinking about this is to remember that I have the Spirit, an actual piece of God, in me as I walk around.  It was incredible that God became flesh.  It’s just as incredible that God dwells in us.  When I interact with people, I bring God in contact with others.  The Spirit wants to talk with people.  The Spirit wants to love them through me.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  I John 4:12

The other thing I am learning is the importance of humility.  I really think one of the things that separates us as human beings is our pride.  We can’t help thinking we are more important than that other person.  We don’t realize that we all exist by God’s mercy.

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” 

I think the story of the unmerciful servant reflects the way God has always thought:

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’”  Matt 18:32-33.

God’s given us mercy.  That’s why we treat others well.

I have so much growing yet to do in this.  One recommendation I want to make, is that you listen to super convicting lesson by Chuck Pike on helping the poor.  It has really stirred up my thinking.  He says the biggest obstacle to helping the poor isn’t the lack of resources, it’s the lack of motivation.  We’re too tied up in our love of money, pleasure, and self.

We need to look at the scriptures anew, and take a hard look at ourselves.  Because it’s just as true for us as it was at the time of Malachi.  We will be judged by how we treat others.

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  Matt 25:41-43

You know, Mother’s Day is coming up.  I’ve been asked to share something a little something at church.  I’ve been thinking about my mother, and the good things she taught me.  One thing my mother really believed, and lived by, is that people are important.  She genuinely cared about people, that was very evident in the way she gave her whole focus to someone when she was with them, and how they were on her heart when she wasn’t with them.

My mom loved deeply, and was always videoing the people she loved.

My mom loved deeply, and was always videoing people.

In the end, that’s what God wants from us as well, for people to be important to us.

And I’m finding that it’s easy to say, “Yeah, let’s care about people more,” but really hard to put into practice.  Because it’s heart growth that needs to happen, and heart growth takes time.

So let’s seek to grow in this.  Let’s take a fresh look at the scriptures.  Let’s look at examples of giving we admire, and seek to imitate that.  And let’s pray.  We can’t help with every need, but we can wake up every morning and pray, “Who is my neighbor today, Lord?  Please show me, and help me to love them as I would want to be loved.”

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? I John 3:17

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother;  Deut 15:7

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Keeping Us Out of the Wasteland

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“I have loved you,” says the Lord.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ 

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackalsEdom may say, ‘Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.’

But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord.  You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’”  Mal 1:1-5

For the past couple of years, I have been reading through the prophets in chronological order.  I took a break from this for awhile, but thought now would be a good time for me to finish the series.  I only have two books left — Malachi and Joel.  I’m reading Malachi.

Malachi was written after the Israelites came back to Jerusalem following the Babylonian and Persian captivities. You would think that the Jews would have been properly chastened after being in exile for 70 years.  But they still fell into much sin, once they came back to Jerusalem.  According to Nehemiah 13, the Jews were intermarrying with foreign people, not keeping the temple holy, and not keeping the Sabbath.

So in comes Malachi, the last prophet until the time of John the Baptist 400 years later.  The last words of God to His people.  The last warnings to them about how they should live.  (Some say Joel was written later, but Malachi’s words are still among the last prophesies.)

God starts by saying, “I have loved you,” to the Jews, and they ask, “How have you loved us?”

Isn’t that what we do too?  God tells us plainly in His word that He loves us.  Yet we are always saying, “How?”  We always see the things that are going wrong, and think that makes us unloved.

God’s answer is to remind the Jews about Edom.  “If you want to know what it looks like to be unloved, look at Edom!”   Because Edom was desolated.  More than that, Edom would NEVER come back to ascendancy.

Contrast this with the Jewish nation, which, although they went into captivity for 70 years, was brought out of captivity.  As we love to read In Jeremiah 29:11, God says to the Jews, “I know the plans I have for you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.”  This was not true of Edom.

A side note about Edom here.  Edom was a country made up of the descendants of Esau.  Although they originally settled elsewhere, they ended up in a land that was southeast of Judah, where present day Jordan is.  During the time of King David, King Solomon, and many of the kings after them, Edom was a vassal state of Israel.  But then when Jerusalem was conquered, the Edomites joined in the destruction and pillage of the city.  For this reason, God said that he would never allow them to rebuild.

And it is interesting to look at the country of Jordan today.  Much of the country is inhabited by Bedouins, who, according to one source I read, are “desert dwellers” who “endure the desert and have learned to survive its unforgiving climate.”  The land of Edom is still a wasteland.

Bedouin Dwelling

Bedouin Dwelling

But anyway, what I would like to focus on in this passage in Malachi is the contrast between those who have God’s grace and favor, and those who do not.

One of the main ways God showed his favor to the Jews was by giving them the law.  He showed them the right way to live.

I’ve been reading “The Guilty Soul’s Guide to Grace” by Sam Laing lately, because I tend to feel guilty when I think of the “law” — all of the things in the Bible I SHOULD be doing.  When I remember the law, I start feeling like a failure.

But it recently occurred to me that God gave us the law to KEEP us from being a failure, to set us upon a good path for our lives.  (I’m not going to discuss here that, of course, we are under grace, not the law.  The law still points the way to right and wrong.)

It is as Solomon wrote in Proverbs 6:23: “For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life.”  And Ps 19:8 says, “The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

Those who don’t follow God don’t have the benefit of knowing the right way.  So with the Edomites, on one hand, they were doomed to destruction because it was their consequence from God for their actions.  But on the other hand, they were not going to thrive because they did not walk according to God’s statutes.

And it really strikes me lately how much the same is true today.  It is like Ps 73:18 says of those who don’t follow God, “Surely you place them on slippery ground.”  People who go their own way so often trip up, or end up in a mess.  Haven’t you seen it?  I think of friends and loved ones I’ve watched go downhill, being battered and bruised, with one bad thing happening to them after another.  It’s hard to watch, and they often won’t listen to advice.

So the last words of prophesy to the Jews would be that God loved them, and gave them a good path.  He also in love gave them strong warnings against straying from the path, and showed them what happened to those who lived apart from it.

Today, all over the world, we see the wasteland of those who do not follow God.  We see wars and atrocities, people rising and then falling.  Will this be a motivation to us to follow God?  Will we see that God loves us and has given everything to help us walk in the right way?  That we should walk in this way not out of compulsion, but in appreciation for having the ingredients for an abundant life?

It is as Ps 119:32 says, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.”

This is what the LORD says– your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.”  Isa 48:17-18

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Taking Time for the Important

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.  Mark 10:13-16

The disciples thought that Jesus had more important things to do than minister to snot nosed kids.  After all, they’re so juvenile.  They don’t merit the attention of an important teacher .

Holding child

Here’s a picture that’s gone viral this week.  It’s a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem who picked up a baby who was crying during his class, and kept on teaching.  People LOVE that this professor would care for the child, instead of sending the little one out of class so he could continue his lecture.  The professor had a different set of priorities.  The child was important.

What is important to us?  Are we like the disciples?  Are some people more important than others?

As Ken and I were praying this morning, he remembered in prayer that it was not the rich influential impressive people Jesus reached out to.  It was the common man.  Ken prayed this because we had just had a challenging night of service to someone whose life is a bit messy.  We had to remind ourselves that this is the kind of person Jesus ministered to — those who have one hardship after another, those we would look at and say, “They need to get their life together!”

We get so self important.  We get so tied up in our busy lives that we can forget what is really important.

I have been reading “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty.   I thought this paragraph from the book was such a great description of people today —

“Mothers took their mothering so seriously now.  Their frantic little faces.  Their busy little bottoms strutting into the school in the tight gym gear.  Ponytails swinging.  Eyes fixed on the mobile phones held in the palms of their hands like compasses.”

In the book, when someone would ask one of the mothers how they were, they would always reply, “Busy.  Frantic!

Our lives are slammed with things we think are essential to do.

By contrast, I drove through the neighborhood yesterday afternoon and saw a group of children playing on a long stretch of lawn.  It looked idyllic.  They weren’t consumed with all they had to do.  They were focused on the now.

children playing

We need to be more like children.

I was with my grandchildren this past weekend on Mother’s Day.  At the end of our time, I told my grandson, barely three, that it was time for us to go.

“I don’t want you to go,” he said.

Then I told my five year old granddaughter goodbye.  She said the same thing.  “But I don’t want you to go.”

Grandkids playing in bubbles on Mother's Day.

Grandkids playing in bubbles on Mother’s Day.

Kids don’t care about schedules or things that need to get done.  They care about relationships.  They want to be with their friends, their loved ones.

Is that the way I am?

Last night at house church we talked about how we need to love one another as Jesus did.  And it occurred to me — Jesus was only able to love a few people well.  To show what love is, he focused on 12 disciples, and a few others, like Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

And I thought, I can do that.  I can focus on loving a few people well.

I let myself get so busy.  I spread myself so thin.  But when I realize that Jesus focused his time on a handful of individuals, it makes me see that I CAN make people the priority.  It’s not overwhelming.

We need to make time for one another.

But what about God?  Do we have time for Him?

Because God has things He would like to tell us, if we would slow down and listen.

I love to watch birds at my birdbath.  I fill it every day, so they have a fresh supply of water.

Bluebirds-bathing

It gives me such pleasure to see the birds perch on the edge and take a long drink, or jump in and wriggle and ruffle their features in blissful enjoyment.

God has water for us, wisdom ready for the taking.  It makes Him happy when we come to him, when we listen.

Listen in the quietness of prayer, not besieging Him with petitions, but waiting for His voice.

Listen for His will, His agenda, not our own.

Listen to pick up what He is teaching us through life.

Listen to hear what is really important.

It’s strange.  We have to block out all the things that seem important to be able to hear the things that are really important.

And somehow a child knows what’s important.  Somehow as we become adults, we forget it.

How is it that growing up has made us more selfish rather than less?

Today  I went and visited an elderly lady who’s in hospice.  It felt meaningful.  It felt important.  As I left, I took her hand in mine and prayed with her.  “Thank you, you’re so sweet,” she said.

She wasn’t a child, but it’s the same thing Jesus was talking about.  The elderly are often demoted.

Let’s take the “children” in our arms and bless them.  Let’s take time for the stranger, for the casual acquaintance.

And those who are close to us, may we love them really well.

 

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The Goodness of Unity

I woke up this morning thinking of God’s goodness.  “I NEED God’s goodness,” I told myself.  “If I wasn’t connected with God’s goodness, I would wither up and die.”

A little melodramatic, but it describes what I feel.

Anyway, today’s reading is Mark 10, and I as this blog unfolds, I am going to tie it in with God’s goodness.

Some Pharisees came to test him. They asked, “Can a husband divorce his wife?”  Jesus answered them, “What command did Moses give you?”  They said, “Moses allowed a man to give his wife a written notice to divorce her.”  Jesus said to them, “He wrote this command for you because you’re heartless.  But God made them male and female in the beginning, at creation.  That’s why a man will leave his father and mother and will remain united with his wife,  and the two will be one. So they are no longer two but one.  Therefore, don’t let anyone separate what God has joined together.”

You know, when God made the world, He saw that it was good.  This is so true for me.  Almost any time I am struggling, I can go out into nature and feel the very presence of God’s goodness.  It is beautifully overwhelming.  It is healing.

And then when God made man, He said it was very good.  This is important for me to remember because I tend to be down on myself.  I have to work on self love.  I have to remember I am God’s unique creation, one that is not just good, but very good!  How can I naysay God and act like I don’t have worth!

But God declared one thing to be not good, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  So God took his very good creation, man, and gave him something else that was very good, a “helpmeet,” a companion who would make him better and life better.

So this is what marriage is to be — the best thing, the daily providence of God’s goodness in our lives.

And that is why Jesus doesn’t support divorce — not because he wants anyone to stay in miserable marriages, but because he wants people to have one of the best gifts he can give.   He’s saying, “Don’t give up!  If you persevere and apply Godly principles, I will bless you through this marriage!”

I mean, look at I Cor. 13 and what love is to be —

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (GWT)

If we had a spouse who was consistently like this, wouldn’t we be joyful every day!

If we were consistently like this, how would it make a difference in our marriage?  I was thinking of it yesterday as I was driving in the car with my husband and we were trying to work out Mother’s Day plans with our kids.  We couldn’t decide where to go.  We were hungry.  It was hot.  “Love is patient,” I kept telling myself.  “It isn’t irritable.  It isn’t rude.”

What about for our friends?  What if we loved them this way?  Jesus just talked in Mark 9 about “have salt in you and be at peace.”  I wrote a blog on the power of peace and unity.  Can we be united with our friends?

I mean, what was the last thing Jesus prayed for before he was put on the cross?  My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”  (John 17:20)

Do we pray for unity?  Do we seek that all men would know us by our love, our love that is patient and kind, that bears all things?

If marriage is a holy union because God has made man and woman one, what about the body of Christ?  “He makes the whole body fit together and unites it through the support of every joint.”  (Eph 4:16 GWT)

It is not good to be alone.  It is the epitome of goodness to be united — in marriage, and as brothers and sisters.  Church can be epically wonderful!

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!  Ps 133:1

But just as marriage takes work, it takes work to be united as disciples.  We intentionally encourage.  We overlook insults.  (Prov. 12:16)  We remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of evil. (Eph 6)

May God’s goodness grow and spread as we grow in unity and in number.

 

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Filed under Love, Mark, Unity

Powerful Encounters, Powerful Love

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”  Mark 9:2-6

This is a crazy story.  Jesus tells the religious leaders he’s not going to give a sign, and then he does here, at least to Peter, James and John.  We get to see without a doubt that there is something extraordinary and supernatural about Jesus.  He is not just a man.

And Peter later uses this in his testimony –“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”  II Peter 1:16-18

And it probably influenced John’s testimony as well –“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  John 1:14

So what is so cool about this, is that through the transfiguration, God gave a powerful experience to men who would later have be able to impact the whole world through their strong convictions.  It’s not that Jesus didn’t want to do signs and wonders, it’s that he was going to do them at the right time, for the right reasons.

And I think the same is true for us.  God is not stingy with His grace.  There are times when we have powerful experiences Let’s be sure to attribute them to God, and let them impact us, and thus the world. 

Maybe it’s not on the same scale as the transfiguration, but I am amazed that I was able to have a yard sale last Saturday.  It is something that seemed completely overwhelming to me for years. Yet I was able to get it planned, get the stuff together, put out an ad, and price my items.  Tons of people came and we made $300 for special contribution!  Also, I think Easter Sunday was pretty astounding.  We had almost 90 people at church, including 16 children!  With the picnic afterwards, it was an idyllic day.

Jesus sought out powerful encounters with God.  He didn’t just go off somewhere to pray.  He went to a HIGH mountain.  It was a place where they could be by THEMSELVES. They had to put in some effort to get there.

We need to seek powerful encounters, mountain top experiences, too — times we go to meet with God and be transformed!

This is why we go on retreats.  But that’s not enough.  When I lived in Atlanta, in the pressure cooker of raising my kids, I used to have some pretty bad days.  When I was full of tears and emotion and felt at the end of my rope, I would drive to Stone Mountain and hike up to the top, praying all the way.  There was something about being up there with my Bible, looking out over the city as I wrestled with God, that helped.  I always felt better.

I remember other times when I would just take a walk, or go outside in the evening where it was just me and the fireflies.  There I would lay my troubles on God and try to work through them.

A couple of months ago I had a long car trip by myself, and I used that time to listen to the Bible and talk to God like He was in the seat next to me.  It helped a lot with what I was going through.  Sometimes I fast for a day, and spend some time with God and a notebook, writing it down as I feel like I get resolution from the Spirit on things that perplex me.

Okay, enough about that.  But here is one more thing I want to say about mountain top experiences.  We may be having them right now, and not even know it. 

I realized yesterday that I’ve been YEARNING to build the married and family ministry here.  In doing so, I’ve taken on an, “if only” attitude.  “If only we could convert some married, then things would be all right.”

The thing I realized about that, was that this is the same thing I’ve through through the years about other wants.  “If only we could convert a campus girl so Jessica wasn’t the only one.”  “If only we could have some baptisms.”  “If only we could get a leader.”

If only we could get those things, then I would be happy.  Then things would be all right.

The thing about that, is that attitude could keep me from relishing the amazing blessings I had, blessings I see even more clearly in retrospect.  They were awesome days when Jessica was the only girl, and we had great times getting together!  I can think of so many awesome times with people over the years.  I miss those people who have moved away!

SO TODAY, EVEN IF WE DON’T HAVE EVERYTHING WE WANT IN THE MINISTRY, IT IS THE BEST OF TIMES!  Let us be present and relish the relationships we have, and realize how powerful it is that God has given us this.

Going on, another thing about the transfiguration story that’s encouraging is that we can see the process of being physically transformed.  It helps me to have faith in what I will be one day.  My flesh will decay, but somehow I will have a spiritual body like Jesus.  After all, the Bible says he clothes us with his righteousness.  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  II Cor 5:21

The last thing I a going to talk about here, and maybe my most favorite thing, is what God said to Jesus:  “This is my beloved son.”

The word for beloved is an extension of the word agape, the word for unconditional love.  The word used here is agapetos, and it means more than just loved unconditionally, it means divinely-loved; personally experiencing God’s “agapē-love.”

God basically told Jesus that He loves him in an extraordinary way, a full on Godly way.  It was a special kind of encouragement for Jesus.  It must have filled him to the brim with good feeling, even empowered him.

But remember, that Mark 9 starts with the statement that some will see the kingdom of God come with power.  And this is what I want to stress .  That the kingdom coming is not just a time when we die to self and have new birth, as I mentioned in the previous blog.

The kingdom ushers in a time when WE can be God’s children — HIS BELOVED, even as Jesus was the beloved son.  “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  I John 3:1

This means so much to me.  In our emotional healing support group this past week I realized that one of the main things I need to be healed of is feeling that I don’t belong.  As I REALLY realize that I am God’s beloved child, I begin to KNOW that I BELONG.  That is just what I need.

God gives us his spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing that we are divine, that we are His and we have a place in His eternal kingdom.

I am enough.  I am not flawed, I DO fit in.  I am perfectly the person God made me to be, and He thinks I am incredibly special, and believes in my potential, even eagerly anticipates seeing me fulfill my potential, just as I anticipate this for my children.

So let’s seek powerful encounters with God.  Let’s appreciate the powerful ways He is already working in our lives.  And most of all, let’s bask in the sure conviction that we are beloved, and He will equip us with everything we need for the future.

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Filed under Love, Mark, Self Worth

Created to Be Given to by God

It comes to me over and over again, with greater appreciation, that God TOTALLY loves us with ALL HIS HEART.   Even if we haven’t seen it, the love has been this huge force in our lives, taking care of us, holding us together.

In  sense, God gave everything to reach out to us.

In love, He GIVES and continues to give.

I went through the gospel of Mark and wrote down the ways God gave to us through the coming of Jesus.  He GAVE:

  • Purpose and meaning for our lives — to be fishers of men
  • New teachings so we would know how to live effective lives
  • Healing
  • Repentance
  • Forgiveness of sins
  • Assurance that He would take care of us (consider the lilies...)
  • Eternal life
  • HOPE and power — “Everything is possible for him who believes.” 

One great picture of God giving is in the parable of the tenants:  “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place.

Like landowner in the parable, God gives us a fruitful life — a job, friends and family, things we enjoy.   It’s not something we would have apart from His beneficence.   All things are His, and he allows us to use them.  Most of us reading this are RICH.

Another great picture of God giving is in the parable of the tenants in Matthew 18 —

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.  At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

This servant was forgiven of a debt of 10,000 bags of gold.  An incredible amount he would NEVER be able to pay back.  That is absolution on a VAST scale.

And that is the way God gives forgiveness to us.

I love this excerpt from “Healing for Damaged Emotions” by David Seamonds, “The world is made for forgiveness; it is made for grace; it is made for love in all of life.  The need for these has been built into the structure of nature, of persons.  It is in every cell of our bodies, in every interpersonal relationship.  We are made for grace and love and acceptance.”

We are MADE to receive grace and forgiveness, to be GIVEN TO BY GOD.

As the very reflection of God, Jesus came to give, to SERVE.  He came teaching, healing, pouring out his life.

“For the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for all.”

And here is the cool thing.  The serving and saving didn’t stop with the death of Jesus, or even at the point we were saved.  God gives to us by CONTINUING the salvation process.  He still loves us actively, with full intensity.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.  Romans 8:28-29a

God is WORKING good for us by orchestrating our lives to shape us to be like Christ.

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Romans 8:32

God WANTS to graciously give to us in abundant ways.

But what  is our response?  Do we even recognize that He has given to us?

I read this passage from Mark 6 about the time when Jesus had gone up on a mountainside to pray after he had fed the 5,000, and then walked on water.  His disciples saw him in the dark and thought he was a ghost.  They were afraid.  Jesus got in the boat and calmed the wind.  Mark says, “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”

How much do we not understand about the loaves, about the miracles that have been performed in our lives, about the multiplying of something from nothing?  Do we attribute everything we have from our own efforts?  Do we disregard our mistakes, and all the times things could have gone wrong, but didn’t?

Are we like the tenants, who didn’t appreciate the vineyard they’d been given to work?  Do we think that we don’t need to GIVE BACK?

At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully.  He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.  “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.  Mark 12:2-8

Are we like the unmerciful servant, who didn’t pass on the forgiveness he’d been given to others?

But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

No!  We must give thanks unceasingly!  We must give out of the overflow of our hearts.

You know, I don’t think we are supposed to obey just because we recognize the awesome God of the universe.  I think we obey because our heart is MOVED to respond when we see how much we’ve been given. 

How hard it must be for God to give and give to a people who take him for granted, whose hearts are hard to His overtures of love.  I know I react imperfectly, but may I at least warm God’s heart by seeking every day to LOVE Him with all my heart, mind, strength and soul as I give to others, love them, forgive them, all the while giving HIM thanks and praise.

 

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Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Gratitude, Love, Things I Am Learning