Minding the Moments

January 22, 2015 — Leave a comment

The other day I was struck by the fact that in less than 16 years my oldest child would be a legal adult. When I shared this realization with my husband, he smiled amusingly, probably thinking that this was only something that a mother would consider a “short time.” Although I realize that many people have children that are much closer to being on the brink of adulthood it nevertheless caused me to pause. It seems only a short time ago that we were coming home from the hospital and with the lightning paced that the past two years have flown by, I can only imagine that the next 16 will be gone before we know it.

While there is a part of me that it sad at the rapid growth of our daughter, rationally I know that this is a good thing. A parent wants their child to grow, develop, and eventually enter the great big world as a responsible adult. However, this realization prompted me to recall again that the moments are fleeting. I will never have another “today” with my children. The days that seem so long will be gone before I know it.  Every moment counts, even the seemingly insignificant ones, because there are no “do overs” in the sands of time.

This means I want to take every opportunity that I can to teach my children – not just what it means to be a responsible adult, but what it means to be a person who solely depends upon God. When we hear sirens blaring in the distance, I want to stop and remind them that we need to pray for whomever the emergency personnel are rushing towards. When something unexpected and inconvenient happens, I want to demonstrate my confidence in the One who orchestrates the setting of the sun and the dawning of the moon, knowing that what happens to me is not outside His hands. At the start of the day and at the end of the day, I want my life to be replete with gratitude for all that He has provided and all that He will.  I want my moments to be filled with lessons – both stated and observed – of what it means to live a life for the sake of eternity.

Of course, it would be tempting to try to contrive these moments. But kids, even when they are 16 years away from becoming an adult, are remarkably gifted at seeing what’s authentic and genuine. Therefore, the best way to ensure that my kids learn the lessons I desire is to conform my life to the aspirations for them. While this won’t make the moments past by any slower, it will help ensure that each moment is spent mindfully.

Minding the Moments

Fear & Love

January 21, 2015 — Leave a comment

One of the beautiful things about Scripture is that you can read the same passage year after year and still learn something new from it. The depths and richness of the Word of God means that there are always new treasures to uncover; there is always new lessons to be learned.

Recently, the reality of this was brought home to me as I read through Matthew 10. In verses 26-33 we have recorded two familiar passages. In the beginning of this section, we read of Christ’s admonition to His disciples regarding the proper perspective on fear. He teaches them that while the world may fear those who have the power to kill them, they would do well to instead fear the all-powerful and all-knowledgeable God – the One who has their present and their future in the palm of His hands. In the adjoining verses, however, we stumble across another familiar section of Scripture when Christ talks about the Father’s care for His kids. He reminds the disciples that God cares about the sparrows that fall; He certainly is concerned with them.

Reading this passage it may seem like an odd juxtaposition. Just after Jesus talks about how people should fear God, He talks about how much God loves them. Right after He warns them regarding their eternal destination, He encourages them about their Earthly care.

While it is tempting to see this as a dichotomy, I don’t think it is. Instead Christ is concisely revealing two marvelous aspects of Who God is. God is awe-inspiring and majestic; and God is loving and kind. God is the proper object of our worship and allegiance, and He is the only conduit of true love.  Our eternity is in His hands, and through the nails that pierced His skins, He provided a way that we can spend eternity with Him.

In our humanity we tend to emphasize one aspect of God over another. We exalt His justice or we revel in His love. Jesus taught us that both these things are true of God, and because of it, we should fear Him, and rest in Him all at the same time.

 

Fear and love

Having It All

January 20, 2015 — Leave a comment

It seems popular these days to talk about how you can “have it all.” You hear it on award shows when recipients talk about how we are in a day and age where “women can have it all.” You hear it in discussions with friends when they talk of their hope to get to the place where they can “have it all.” And you hear it in the media as authors debate whether such a state is even attainable. Having it “all” – however it is defined – seems to be the desired pinnacle of our success – even if it is an uncertain one.

While having it all seems desirable, I don’t know if we really know what we are asking for when we state this as our aim. Having everything we want means that we would get all the problems and challenges that come with those desired privileges, responsibilities, roles or achievements. We want it “all” but we don’t think through the ramifications of obtaining it.  The grass may look greener on the other side, but the grass still needs to be mowed and watered.

The Christian, however, should define “having it all” differently than their friends and neighbors. The Christian’s desires should be for what God has designed for them. Our goals and aspirations are filtered through the revelation of His plan. What He wants for us is more important than what we want for ourselves. In His kindness, God often grants people the desires of their heart, but when He doesn’t, it doesn’t mean that the Christian doesn’t have it “all” –  it just means that the “all” God has planned for them is different from what they expected. We “have it all” when we are walking consistently with His design and purpose for us; not only is that sufficient, but God is able to give us even more than we can ask for or imagine (see Ephesians 3:20).

We may look at our surroundings and feel like we are deprived of so much (although for most reading this post, that wouldn’t be accurate even from an Earthly perspective), but through Christ, God has given us everything we need. Therefore in Him, we really do “have it all.”

 

The-grass-may-look

Quick to Forget

January 15, 2015 — Leave a comment

It was a seemingly insignificant moment.

I noticed a dish that I thought my darling husband may have left out and asked him if it was dirty or clean.

It was dirty, he told me, but he would wash it before he went to bed.

As I had an early morning the next day, that worked for me.

Except that the next morning when I woke up the dish was still there. In the midst of watching the big game, it had been forgotten. I knew in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter, yet it did. At least to me.

As I thought about how to express my frustration so as to frame it in the best way possible, the thought crossed my mine that rarely did my husband have to plan similar discussions with me. And while the temptation was to think that this was because my track record was perfect, it didn’t take me long to realize that was probably not the case. My memory, like most people’s, is faulty. Surely there were times that I had agreed to do something and then forgotten to do it.  The reason I couldn’t recall a history of my husband initiating similar conversations was more due to his graciousness than my diligence. More often than not, he chooses to overlook my errors and knowing him, when I am forgetful, he probably does whatever thing I neglected to do without making a peep. He doesn’t require “a good reason” for my lack of mindfulness; he opts to issue me grace. While I may be inclined to wonder how he could quickly forget the dirty dish, I should instead be gratefully wondering why he is so quick to forget my mistakes.

In our sinfulness it is easy to notice the missteps and errors of others. However, we are less aware of the kindness and sacrifice that others extend to us. May we strive to reverse this tendency. And may we follow the example of my husband and become quick to forget.

 

Proverbs 19-11

I love a good joke. If you were to ask one of my college classes they may argue over the word “good” since I tend to tell jokes that are pretty corny, but still, laughing is one of my favorite things to do.  Whether it’s a witty play on words or a creative pun or even just an unexpected twist in a story, finding humor in life’s everyday circumstances is something that has served me well over the years. The Bible seems to support this proclivity. After all, Proverbs 17:22a tells us that “a joyful heart is good medicine.”

Recently, I was reminded of a very important truth about humor, though. As I read the story of the NFL replacement referee who notoriously missed a crucial call, I realized how critical it was that we remember the person behind the punchline. After the game, the skewering of this particular official was severe.  All the pundits, late night talk show hosts, and armchair quarterbacks may not have given a second thought to the impact of the critique they were making, but the impact was significant. The referee ended up suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as the result of being the target of so much criticism.  His infamy destroyed his life.

This is an extreme case to be sure, but often times there are lessons to be learned from the extremes. Everyone we tease may not end up seeking professional help, but there is at least the possibility that one of them may. Words matter. If you doubt that, think back upon your childhood. If you are like most people you can remember at least one hurtful word that was seemingly spoken in “jest.” The fact that you still recall it all these years later demonstrates the impact it made.

This is why, all these years later, I have grown to really appreciate the punishment my dad meted out when I rashly pulled a prank on my sister. My defense for my seemingly innocent act was that I was “just joking.” My dad required me to memorize Proverbs 26:18-19 which taught me that not only was that defense useless, but that what seems like “jokes” to us, are not viewed the same from Heaven.  God doesn’t appreciate deceit, but He does applaud love. As we approach life, may our humor reflect the same.

 

Punchline Behind Person

Godly Goals

January 13, 2015 — Leave a comment

I have never been a big fan of New Year resolutions. There are several reasons why. First, I never understood why I should wait until the calendar changed to make a change in my life. If there was a goal that was worthy enough to work on, then it seemed I should start working on it now, rather than later. Secondly, New Year’s resolutions seemed to be rather dichotomous – either you achieved them or you didn’t. Most changes are gradual in nature, and I didn’t like the sense of “failing” if I happened to have a day when my resolve waned. I am the type of person that likes to keep on making progress. I didn’t want to forgo my goal in its entirety simply because I had a day or two when my focus wasn’t as it should be.

My lack of appreciation for this annual ritual has grown in recent years because I have increasingly realized that most people make their resolutions based on what’s important to them. This may seem obvious, but if you listen carefully, rarely will you hear someone’s whose list of desired achievements has to do with anyone besides themselves. Perhaps there are good reasons for this – after all you can only change yourself – but it seems that there is not even attempt to do anything beyond that which will make the individual happy. “I want to lose weight.” “I want to read more.” Even the seemingly altruistic resolutions that focus on “becoming a better person” often have a lot more to do with the perception we want other people to have of us than we may be willing to admit. When I sit down to think about my plans for the coming year, it is tempting to consider my perspective alone – and what will give me a feeling of satisfaction if I achieve it before the calendar changes again.

As Christians, however, our agenda is not our own. Our focus shouldn’t be on what we want to achieve, but what God wants to achieve in us. Resolutions of any sort, shouldn’t happen without spending time in prayer and without careful contemplation of Scripture. We should be seeking God’s wisdom for the goals that He wants us to focus on, and we should be aligning ourselves with His stated intentions, not asking Him to align with ours. Our “resolutions” shouldn’t be an attempt to help secure more of our own happiness, but instead our focus should be on how we can obtain more Christ-likeness as we seek to serve and honor Him. We should be pursuing godly goals – and not just at the beginning of a new year.

I Thessalonians 4:3a states, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” In other words, if you are a Christian, God’s plan for your coming year (and any years that follow that) is to make you more like Him. My goals should have them same focus. And the good news is, even if I have failed to keep my new year’s resolutions, it is always a good time to make a goal to become more like Christ.Godly goals

Unnecessarily Generous

June 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

Recently I had the opportunity to attend my nieces’ birthday party. Their birthdays are close together and because they are only two years apart and share a lot of the same friends, their celebrations tend to be at the same time Along with making it convenient for their family and other loved ones, this also means that you can pack more into the get together than you might normally do for just one kid’s birthday. Along with crafts and games, my sister and brother-in-law almost always get them a piñata.  After all – what kid doesn’t like permission to take a large bat and destroy an animated character only to be rewarded by candy?

In order to ensure that each child gets the thrill of experiencing the joys of the piñata, there are certain guidelines that are instituted. First, the youngest child (who can effectively walk and hold a blunt instrument) gets to go first and the subsequent order proceeds up the age chart until the oldest child swings the bat last. Secondly, when the piñata is cracked open, the children have to wait until they are given permission from a selected adult to get the candy. This (hopefully) prevents any injury from a wayward bat and helps ensure equal opportunity for kids to enjoy the bounty.

At the most recent party, my child happened to be first in line to take the turn at the piñata and while she surely enjoyed hitting the stuffed snowman, I am not sure she quite understood why she was doing so. Even after the candy spilled forth, she was a little perplexed at what she was supposed to do. She happily followed the other kids to where the treasures laid, but the whole concept of gathering them as fast as she could before the competition seized her share was not something she was familiar with. Likely she would have been content watching the action and puttering around with her daddy to pick up the things on the outskirts that the other, more experienced piñata hitters had missed. While her treasure trove would have been limited with this approach, I’m not sure she would have been aware of the difference.

However, I didn’t have time to even think through all of these things before my oldest niece reached into the pile of candy and trinkets and promptly looked around for my daughter to place it in her bag. As the tears begin to form in my eyes as I watched her generosity,  as well as her care and concern for her younger cousin, I was reminded of a wonderful lesson. While my daughter would have likely been unaware if she had missed out on this blessing, my niece was intent on making sure she did not. My daughter’s awareness of her deprivation (and any subsequent feelings of disappointment that might have been exhibited) was not necessary before my niece purposed to cheerfully give to her. In other words, she did not give because she had to, or because she was trying to quell feelings of despair. Even before the “loss” was known, she sacrificially gave of what was rightly hers to display kindness to someone else.

As a mom, this episode touched my heart. What parent doesn’t like knowing that their kid is being looked out for and blessed? As a Christian, though, the lesson was even more powerful. Too often, my generosity is limited to those who have an identified and serious need. The busyness of life prevents me from being as proactive as my niece in seeking out how I can give to those who – while they may not need it – may be encouraged by an “unnecessary” gift. I may be quick to respond to tragedy and yet slow to give in the day-to-day course of things. Yet the rush of the throng did not inhibit my niece’s concern for her younger cousin; neither should the hectic pace of my daily schedule inhibit my generosity towards those whose path God causes to intersect with mine.

The ultimate example of this “unnecessary generosity” is of course God Himself (see Mt. 5:45). He regularly gives us blessings that we too often don’t take the time to even acknowledge, let alone for which we take a moment to give Him thanks.  However, as we strive to be more like Christ may we seek to exhibit the same kind of cheerful giving. May we give not only to meet an identified need, but may we give out of the abundance of blessings that we ourselves have received.

The Measured Life

January 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

There’s a truism in business that what gets measured gets managed. In other words, if you want to make sure that something is getting done, that a goal is being worked on, make sure you quantify your expectations for it. If you do so, and you regularly check whether progress is being made towards that goal, people are more likely to focus their attention on its completion. It’s an approach that we utilize in our own life as well. We assess our life based on the numbers on the scale, the dollar figures in our bank account or the worth of our house. We quantify our expectations so we know how close (or how far away) we are to fulfilling them.

Sometimes we are apt to try to take a similar approach with our spiritual life. We look at how many times we have read our Bible or how long our prayer time was and we extrapolate these figures to measure our walk with God. Unfortunately, while these things can certainly be utilized as benchmarks for a deepening relationship with our Savior, they are too easily “faked” much like we may choose the scale that gives us the lowest figure. Time invested does not necessarily equal quality of investment and if we simply just watch the clock we may miss the point of our spending time with God altogether.

The other challenge with this approach is that we are not in a position to fully assess the impact of our obedience to God. When God calls us to do something, it may seem like a “small” deal to us and therefore unworthy (from a purely statistical viewpoint) of our time and attention. However, God is often in the business of multiplication. He is not beyond using small acts of obedience to have long-lasting results. Abraham’s son and heirs were all blessed because of his obedience (Gen. 26:4-5). Jesus saw the faith of the paralytic’s friends and not only healed their friend, but forgave him his sins as well (Mt. 9:2-6). Both of these stories, and countless others, have been retold for generations and have taught others what a life of faith looks like. There is no way that the primary actors in these instances could have accurately predicted these results. If they had attempted to do so, their measurements, and perhaps their obedience, may have fallen short.

Jesus told His disciples to let their light shine before others so that “they may see good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). How far and wide God chooses to cast our light is up to Him. Our job is to faithfully live our lives in keeping with what He has called us to do. We will likely be unaware of the full measurement of that faithfulness this side of Heaven, but we can trust that God will use in for His Kingdom’s purposes.

Speaking Softly

January 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

President Teddy Roosevelt was famous for saying “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”

The Bible leaves out the part about the big stick, but does state that “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1a). Since it seems that most people indicate that they dislike conflict, one would think that this truism would be heeded more often. Perhaps the reason that it is not is because we are unsure what a “soft answer” is. Does it mean that we need to keep our opinions to ourselves and only state niceties? After all, the Bible also states that it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11). Or perhaps it means that we are to give compliments to those we are frustrated with and by doing so “heap burning coals” on our enemy’s head (Prov. 25:22). While it is assuredly a good thing to both overlook an offense and to say kind things to those who wrong us, there are some circumstances where the continuance and growth of a relationship seem to require that we let someone else know what is bothering us. In this case, how can we ensure that our response can be classified as “soft?”

One way to answer this question is to look at the definition of the words that we use. The word soft can be defined as “having a pleasing quality involving a subtle effect or contrast rather than sharp definition.” A “soft” answer then won’t draw rigid distinctions but instead will please the other by extending grace. When we respond softly it doesn’t mean that we continue unheard; it means that our response considers the other person and their perspective in shaping our communication efforts.

Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate this is to look at an example. For instance, can you hear the difference between telling someone “I didn’t feel like my time was respected” versus stating “You were disrespectful of my time.”? Not only is the second one full of more intense accusation but by using the word “disrespect” it indicts the other’s motives. Both sentences seemingly communicate the same thing, however the first can be more easily classified as a “soft” answer because it indicates a “subtle” contrast rather than a sharp, and perhaps aggressive, distinction.

What is shown in the example above has practical implications for a variety of circumstances in our lives. Our relationships with our spouse, children, friends and other loved ones will benefit from soft answers that diffuse, rather than incite, wrath. However, doing so requires a deliberation and mindfulness to our words that we are usually not quick to employ. Our emotions tend to get the best of us and instead of being “slow to speak” we are quick to voice our opinions. Speaking softly then not only requires that we are purposeful with how we say things, it requires that we take time to think through the implications of our words before we speak. In doing so, our words are more likely to be pleasing to the other and to turn away the wrath that we otherwise might face.

It’s that time of year where many people are focused on their recently made resolutions to improve themselves or their lives. As has been well-documented however, these new-found commitments can be difficult to maintain. Adding another to-do to an already crowded list is a struggle for many people and the motivation that led them to make the goal can often wane as the difficulty of keeping it becomes apparent. Sometimes these resolutions are superfluous and our lack of success in keeping them is inconsequential. Other times, we may be convinced that we are pursuing a path or direction that God has ordained and yet we still wrestle with seeing it through to completion. As we struggle we may begin to question whether we can really do what God has called us to, and our trust in His good plan may weaken.

However, God does not call us to certain ministries or tasks in a vacuum. As the One who names the stars (Ps. 147:4) and who clothes the lilies of the field (Mt. 6:28), He is well aware of the responsibilities and challenges that we face. Therefore, when we struggle with all that is on our plate it seems to me that it is likely that one of two things is occurring – Either we are doing things that we have not been called to do and we are taking on tasks and commitments that God does not intend for us to bear. Or, we are not managing the time and resources that God has given us effectively and we need to seek His wisdom in how we manage our days. Our Heavenly Father is well aware of what we need (Mt. 6:8) and of the constraints that we face, including the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day. While He may call us to something that will stretch us, if He calls us to it, He will work through it to bring about His good purpose (Ro. 8:28).

Practically, this means that for many of us we probably need to be more mindful and prayerful about what we commit to do. We may eagerly say “yes” because we like the feeling of being needed or because we hate to disappoint other people. While there are many good things that we could be investing our time in, we need to humbly ask God to direct us to those that He has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). At the same time we shouldn’t think that because we don’t know what God has called us to that this is an excuse to either not do anything or to simply pursue things of temporal pleasure. As a child of God, He desires to use you for His Kingdom’s purpose (I Pet. 4:10; Rom. 12:6). As He does so we need to trust that He will provide everything we need to accomplish the things that He has set before us to do. When we struggle, we need not try to manage it ourselves, but to seek His perspective on our time and our to dos.