Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Some Thoughts For Today

So, there’s an election today, and there seems to be record turnout already, judging by the reports from early voting.  I took advantage of the opportunity to vote early, waited in line for an hour and 15 minutes during the first week to cast my ballot. Many people see this midterm election as an important one, and it is – they all are, really. BUT, may I offer a thought? As important as it may be in this time and place, it isn’t the most important thing, and a steady diet of political social media is toxic toward a more peaceful union these days. 

It’s right to be a good citizen, an informed citizen, loving your neighbors by voting for what you believe will be best for the people, and voting as your conscience dictates. It’s also good to keep your politicking in perspective if you’re a Christian. You see, as Christians, our citizenship is really in Heaven. 

Philippians 3:20-21
20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

THIS is where our true hope lies and where we ought to be expending our most energy. As much as I want to be a good citizen of my earthly country, and I do, even more important is to represent my true citizenship well. Getting too spun up and bothered by who wins or loses a temporal election is not where I want my heart to beat. Whether this election turns out the way I hope or not, and I do have a definite opinion and will have real emotions on that, because there are important issues at stake, for sure,  I want my true, deep, overriding, and abiding passion to be for Christ and His gospel. 

With that in mind, it is extremely helpful to remember Who is actually in control of the nations, Who builds them up….and Who brings them down, Who blesses them…..and Who judges them.  I’ve always loved Psalm 46 – and, PLEASE note, verse 10 has NOTHING to do with contemplative meditation as it’s so often used when taken out of context.  It has everything to do with understanding that even the raging of the nations against their Creator will one day be stilled and cease when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Psalm 46
To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
            a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
            though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
            though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
            the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
            God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
            he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD of hosts is with us;
            the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8 Come, behold the works of the LORD,
            how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
            he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
            he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
            I will be exalted among the nations,
            I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
            the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 47:8-9
8 God reigns over the nations;
            God sits on his holy throne.
9 The princes of the peoples gather
            as the people of the God of Abraham.
  For the shields of the earth belong to God;
            he is highly exalted!

Tonight when we begin to see the election results, let us be very, very careful not to too heartily rejoice or too deeply mourn, no matter the results, because ultimately we who belong to Christ trust Him to do what is right – He will bless or judge our nation, and all the nations, as He sees fit, but our mission remains the same. We are to be ambassadors for Christ, proclaiming the message of reconciliation to God, the forgiveness of sins, to anyone who will hear. 

2 Corinthians 5:17-21
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So, please, be a good citizen and vote wisely.  Love your neighbors daily, even those with whom you disagree. But do not hang your hopes on earthly elections and do not find despair in them, either.  We are ambassadors of Christ, and we have a very focused mission – to, as we go, make disciples, adding more voices to join in the great Hallelujah chorus of Heaven.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Advice For My Teenage Sons and Daughter

Over the past several days, watching national news on TV, these thoughts have been heavy on my heart, and I am going to use my blog space to work them out. These are things I most want my not-so-young-anymore children to hear often and hopefully grasp and take to heart. 

Number one, and this is the absolutely most important thing I want to share with my children, if they hear nothing else, please let them hear this: Love Jesus. Know Him. Pursue Christ and His Kingdom first and foremost and most of all. Recognize your need for His salvation. We have all sinned, every single one of us, we have all gone astray, no one is righteous, no not one. (Isaiah 53:4-6, Romans 3:23). Jesus is the ONE and only mediator between God and man. He is the only way to be reconciled, made right and restored to right fellowship with God. While we were yet sinners, rebels against our Creator, Christ died for us and He rose again, just as the Scriptures said. He lived a sinless life, fulfilled all of God’s law, and suffered the wrath of God that our sin deserves on the cross for us. Through repenting of our sin and trusting in His sacrificial death which satisfied God’s wrath against our sin and His resurrection to life, we have Jesus as our High Priest and we can go before God with confidence, forgiven and made a new creation, fit to live for Him.  And knowing this, know that He has demonstrated the greatest love for you! Learn to rest all your hope in that love! Learn to love Him and rejoice in Him, knowing that in Christ there is no longer any condemnation for those who have placed their trust in Him alone, and you have been set free from the power of sin.  (Hebrews 4:14-16, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Romans 5:8-11, Romans 8:1).

Number two: Never treat any sin lightly, but recognize it for the rebellion it is. “Boys will be boys,” or “Kids will be kids,” or “Aw, they’re just teenagers,” is NEVER an excuse for sin. First of all, sin is an offense against the God you were created to worship. Sin also has consequences, often long-reaching ones. If you ever laugh about sin, it will be that much harder to take it seriously. We are created to worship and glorify and enjoy God forever. When we have surrendered to Him as Lord, we are not our own. He is LORD. He has saved us from sin to live in a manner worthy of Him. Purpose in your heart to represent Him well and to repent quickly when you realize there is sin in your heart, thoughts, or actions. When you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you will become a person who hates your own sin. You must put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh. When you do sin, be quick to confess it and repent, knowing that it is God who works in you to will and to work His good pleasure as you work out your salvation, and confident that He is faithful and just to forgive you from all unrighteousness. (Ephesians 2:4-10, Ephesians 4:1-3, Philippians 1:27, Philippians 2:12-13, Colossians 1:10-14, Romans 13:14, 1 John 1:9)

Number three: Do not just “go to church.”  Be a faithful member of a Bible-teaching and believing, faithful, solid church. Go regularly, engage with and love the people, listen well to the teaching and apply it to your life as you search the Scriptures and embrace the Faith as your own, join in the mission of the Church to be a growing follower of Christ and to help others to become growing followers of Christ. (Philippians 1:27-2:4, Hebrews 1:24-25)

Number four: Read and esteem God’s word. How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to God’s word. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. Set your mind on the things of the Lord and tune your thinking to accord with His word. Learn to discern truth from error and search the scriptures and measure all wisdom by the truth of His word and train yourself to love godly wisdom and discern the foolishness of worldly wisdom. Become very familiar with the book of Proverbs and hide God’s wisdom in your heart. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 119:9, Ecclesiastes 12:1, Proverbs 1:7, Colossians 1:6-8, Colossians 3:1-4, 2 Corinthians 10:5-6)

Number five: Treat other people with dignity and kindness, and live at peace with everyone as much as it is possible and as much as it depends upon you, not quarrelsome but a peacemaker, not seeking to hold a grudge or remember a wrong, but remembering how very much you have been forgiven and what mercy you have been shown by our Savior. The people you encounter are made in the image of God, and your character and how you treat them matters very much. God helping you, practice loving your neighbor as yourself and walk in humility, preferring others before yourself. Again, when you fail, run to your loving Savior quickly and repent, and be quick to apologize and to do what is right when you have wronged others. (Romans 12:18, 1 John 1:9, Ephesians 4:32, Philippians 2:1-11)

Number six: Choose your friends carefully. You very often are like the people you hang around most. Be kind to everyone as much as you possibly can, but make sure your closest friends and those with whom you share your heart are the kind of people who will not lead you into sin or distract you from following closely after Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:33-34, Ephesians 5:1-21 READ THIS!!)

Number seven: Choose who you date even more carefully, and treat them with respect. Character matters. Godly faithfulness matters. A biblical understanding of the gospel matters. Sex and sexual behavior are for marriage only, one man and one woman in covenant for life. You want to marry someone who loves Jesus and is first committed to Him. (Hebrews 13:4)

Number eight: Avoid all appearance of evil. Stay away from parties where drunkenness and sinful and undisciplined behavior are evident. If you find yourself in such a situation, leave! Sure, avoiding the parties may mean you aren’t hanging with the most popular kids. Being popular is not worth losing your reputation or your soul. I can’t help thinking that if the man in the news recently had not been known to frequent the types of parties where alcohol is present, then there would be no doubt cast upon his good name now. But he cannot say he never went to this type of party, only that he wasn’t at the one in question. And though this may not be a popular thing to say, same goes for girls. Protect yourself and stay away from these situations. Even as a teenager, live in such a way that your life is above reproach. What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?  A good reputation is hard to recover once it is lost. Even more importantly, we are to be Kingdom minded people, sober minded, not wasting our lives frivolously. Cultivate the wisdom you want to be characterized by as an older adult by rejecting foolishness now in your youth and seeking wisdom. Getting drunk is not the character of a wise person. Flee youthful lusts and run toward wisdom. As I’ve watched the news this week, I couldn’t help being thankful for those lonely times when I didn’t fit in with the popular crowd that I thought at the time were a hard thing.  Living a life without that kind of regret is a thankful thing, and a life lived in integrity is a treasure and a testimony to the gracious God who has saved you. If you live from your youth in integrity, you do not have to fear false or other accusations that may surface in later years. (Genesis 39, Proverbs 22:1, Proverbs 20:7, 1 Thessalonians 5:22)

Number nine: Be careful with your words, they reflect on your character, even thirty years later. You don’t have to immediately say whatever comes to mind, and venting is not a virtue. It is my opinion that social media and smart phones have been more of a negative influence than a positive one for many reasons. Be wise and careful how you use them. It is so easy to sin with our words - and that includes typed words. Once our words are out there, we can’t take them back. Once words are typed or put on social media, they may be out there for years and years. Be careful how you present yourself online. Your character matters, and just because online communication feels more disconnected, it’s still your words and your character you’re showing. It is not true that words don’t hurt, but at the same time, refuse to take easy offense at the words of others. More on that in the next point. Avoid crass or blasphemous language, even if everyone else you know talks that way. We are to be light in the midst of a dark world, and one very powerful way to do this is to refuse to be foolish and choose to edify with your speech - spoken and written. But here again, when you blow it, run to Jesus. He is your Savior and your friend and your High Priest. Be quick to repent and quick to apologize for harmful words. (James 1:26, James 3:1-12, Proverbs 29:20, Proverbs 29:11, Ephesians 4:29)

Number ten: Be slow to take offense. Love is patient and kind and does not hold a grudge. You have been forgiven much, learn to be forgiving and treat others the way you would want them to treat you. Being offended is a choice. Assume the best for as long as you can, and put the best construction on what others say and do for as long as you can. Remember, as much as you are able, be at peace with others. Do not assume motives.  You cannot know what is in someone else’s heart. If you have an issue with someone, go to that person directly and seek either clarification or reconciliation, do not gossip to others. Learn not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think and not to look down on other people.  Remember the parable of the prideful Pharisee and the humble tax collector - the tax collector prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner! - and he went down to his house justified. (1 Corinthians 13, Luke 18:9-14, Matthew 18:15, Proverbs 20:19, Proverbs 11:13, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 26.20)

These are just a few morsels of wisdom I’ve been thinking over in light of the constant news coverage this past week. My husband and I were talking together about how much a good understanding and knowledge and application of the book of Proverbs could benefit a young person who determines to love the Lord wholeheartedly. In all these things, a healthy remembrance that we do not live this life in our own strength, but in surrender to the gracious love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit by faith in the redemption bought by the blood of Christ and the power of His resurrection. Hallelujah, what a Savior! 

 I close with this:
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 “17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 

In light of all that, God helping you and in grateful joy, seek to live like who you are in Christ. 

Saturday, July 07, 2018

The Lord is My Salvation

I have a new favorite song that I’ve been listening to on repeat lately, The Lord is My Salvation by Keith and Kristyn Getty. I was thinking that every once in a while I come across songs that make me think maybe I should compile of list of songs that I wouldn’t mind having played one day at my funeral.  I guess that sounds like a weird thing to think about, but given that we don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I do know Who holds tomorrow, and I know that some songs very eloquently express the kind of faith I have in Him, this is one of those songs that will go on my list if I ever write one. 

As I’ve listened to this song recently, I’ve been thinking about the names of my children.  All three of our children have biblical names.  The first born’s name means, “YAHWEH is salvation,” the second means, “Who is like the LORD?” and the third means, “Ewe,” and we’ve always told her she is our little lamb. 

I truly long for my children to know, really and truly know, that God is their salvation, JESUS is Lord and He delights to save sinners, to know that there is NO ONE like God, and to know that Jesus is the Great Good Shepherd, who loves His sheep, saving to the uttermost those who trust Him alone, that they can run to Him and cast all their burdens on Him and He is mighty to save. Jesus is the only name given among men by which we must be saved. 

The Lord is my salvation. Yes, and amen!

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Honoring Our Father and Mother

This past weekend my brother and I and our families had the privilege of gathering together to celebrate my parents and their 50th wedding anniversary. What a blessing this was!  This past year has been full of some rather significant physical challenges, and I am incredibly thankful the Lord allowed us to have this weekend to honor our parents and celebrate together. It was wonderful to have all of us together, as we don’t get to do that very often with my family living so far away from everyone else. 

As we began thinking about what to do for this milestone occasion about a year or so ago, my brother told me of the project he wanted to do as a gift for them. Several years ago, my dad was teaching an adult Sunday School class at their church and working through the book of John, and he began sending his notes to my brother and me to share. My brother thought it would be a great thing to compile all those notes into a book format, and he worked for the better part of the year getting that accomplished.  What he produced was beautiful. We also wanted something to honor my mom’s art work, and we had the idea of taking some of her paintings and making a printed book of them for her. I think they were pleased with our gifts, and I’m so very thankful we got to spend the time with them that we did this weekend, celebrating God’s kindness and grace through 50 years of marriage. 

My brother did me the kindness of asking me, as the oldest child, to write the forward for what became the three volume set of “Lessons on The Gospel According to John.” I thought I’d like to share what I wrote here on my blog, as it is a small token of gratitude for the legacy God has graciously given our family:

The righteous who walks in his integrity - 
blessed are his children after Him!
Proverbs 20:7 

When my brother, Tim, first suggested this project as we were discussing our parents’ upcoming 50th wedding anniversary and what we could do to honor them, it seemed like a great idea.  As I’ve thought about it, what could be more fitting a tribute to what has been a driving and most important theme throughout their marriage than to honor their love for learning and teaching God’s Word? Yes, this project is my dad’s notes from the many months (years!) he spent teaching through the book of John with his adult Sunday School class at Faith Presbyterian Church. We have these notes because of his love for my brother and me and his wanting to share the truths he was learning and teaching with us, but the legacy of my and my brother’s lives is to have grown up with TWO gifted Bible teachers for parents. 

When my parents were a young married couple, they moved to the Space Coast of Florida as my dad began working at the Kennedy Space Center (my husband likes to tell people that his father-in-law is a real rocket scientist). Not only did that begin my dad’s professional career, but they quickly found First Baptist Church of Merritt Island, FL, where a dynamic preacher by the name of Adrian Rogers taught the Bible every week in a way my parents had never heard before. They loved it. They began growing spiritually and learning to study God’s Word and understand it better, and eventually to teach it. I remember my mom teaching children’s Sunday School and VBS for many years, and some of my earliest memories of that church were going over to the old Job building where my dad taught a couples class, and if I close my eyes, I can still smell that building and see some of those faces that I haven’t seen in years. My mom’s love for GA’s led her to teach it for a while when I was at the age to be in her group, and summer GA camp gave me some of my very first tastes of what it means to study the Bible and have my own quiet time in the Word. Later my mom went on to teach a women’s class, and even when I would come home on college breaks, I preferred going to her class than back to the youth and college class. I still remember her taking one lesson to diagram the first sentence of the book of Hebrews - ever the English teacher, as well.

Growing up in our home, my brother and I knew how important the Bible was to my parents because they talked about what they were learning all the time. I used to like to say it was part of the warp and woof of our life. It’s not so much that we had tons of ‘formal’ Bible training times, but that as they learned and grew, they talked about it - either to each other and around us, or directly to us, but always we knew how precious the truths of God’s Word were to them. So much of what I know about the Bible was caught just by growing up in a home where these things were not just something we heard on Sunday then put up on a shelf until the next week, but they were life to my parents. And believe, me, children notice these things. For my mom and dad, the Christian faith is everything. They love Jesus and they love His word, and they talk about what matters. 

When my parents discovered the doctrines of grace as they studied the Bible and prepared to teach, it brought them, eventually, great peace. Though the journey eventually led them away from the church that had been home for so many years, God graciously brought them to a new home at Faith Presbyterian, where my brother and I have watched them bloom. As my mom said, finally the pieces fit and she had been given the key for which she had been looking. God is so kind to His people! 

How thankful I am to have that legacy. The older I get, the more people I meet, the more thankful I am that God placed me in a home where my parents were real. They are not perfect people, there are no perfect families, but they are real and they love the Lord and His Word, and He has granted them both the gift to teach it well, and they have loved my brother and me through all of our ups and downs, and I’m so grateful God gave us these parents and this family. How thankful I am to have heard the gospel early and young and to have the example of two people who weren’t merely nominally interested, but invested in His Word. It is an immense blessing to a child to grow up in a home where Jesus is Lord and her parents are seeking to honor Him, where the faith is a part of who we are, not just an add on or something we do on Sundays. To this day, when I have biblical questions, I know I can go to my mom and dad and they will either be able to answer them or know how to search it out. They have modeled this since we were children, and their counsel and advice was biblical and practical.  For this I am grateful.

With these volumes we get to share the notes my dad shared with my brother and me as he was teaching the rich book of John. John is the book we often counsel new believers to read first, as it is so rich and such a glorious portrait of the Deity and majesty of Christ. My dad was excited to share his notes with us since we were far away raising our own families and couldn’t sit in on his classes except for the rare times we got to visit, and now, my brother has labored in love to set them into a bound series of volumes that we can present as a gift to honor my parents as they celebrate 50 years of marriage. We also felt that a fitting tribute would be to print some of my mother’s paintings on the bindings of these volumes, and for that we chose three that seemed fitting for John, “The Word” with the Greek LOGOS, “The Last Trumpet,” and “Faith Station Church” from her series of church paintings. 

Mom and Dad, from both Tim and me, thank you for loving us and always being ‘on our side,’ and for modeling faithfulness in marriage, and most importantly, thank you for pointing us to Jesus. That is the greatest gift any parent can give their children, and you have done it well, continuing on to your grandchildren, who share in this wonderful legacy.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad, with much love. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for the blessing of a Christian home. I am more grateful than I can ever adequately express. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Thoughts I've Had While Listening to "The Sound of Silence"

I have always liked the Simon & Garfunkel song, “The Sound of Silence.” Until recently, if you had asked my opinion, I would have said I don’t think anyone else could do it justice, but then I heard the version that the band Disturbed has recorded.  My teenage son assures me I would not like Disturbed’s other music, and I’ll just go ahead and take his word for it, since he knows about these things. :-) One other version I loved recently happened during a marching band performance from one of the high school bands at the one and only competition we went to this year. The band played some of “The Sound of Silence,” and then, with the echo and overtones of the last chord played ringing in the stadium, stood on the field in complete silence for several seconds before playing again.  It was musically and emotionally very powerful.  But I’m digressing far from my point.  I do like this version of “The Sound of Silence” that I’m posting under this paragraph very much,  as it captures well a sense of heart wrenching alienation as it begins softly and builds in intensity. Something about the pathos of his voice and the musical arrangement captures the angst of the alienation that I think we are seeing more and more in our culture.

Paul Simon wrote this song in the 1960’s, capturing his own generation’s angst and alienation, but I think he was sort of a cultural prophet, too, because every time as I listen to the words and tone of the song, I can’t help but think of the whirlwind of alienation we are reaping upon ourselves with our smartphones/devices and social media. 

Look at this stanza:

“And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.”

Does that not describe what happens on Facebook and Twitter a hundred thousand times a day? We are more connected than ever in this generation, yet the depth of those connections is superficial at best in most cases. When I first joined Facebook almost nine years ago (I actually had to go check because I can’t believe it’s been that long), it was only after resisting for a long while and I only joined because people from my old high school were working on a reunion and looking for people and someone (my brother, I think) said someone had contacted him looking for me. So I joined, thinking it might be a neat way to keep up with people from the past, especially since we move so often. And that part has been pretty cool. But, one of the griefs of my life is that I’ve found, while it’s cool to stay in touch, the closeness of the friendship is just not the same when we aren’t able to be face-to-face friends anymore. People I was very close to when we were able to go to lunch together and spend time in each other’s homes, just aren’t able to seem as close and well-known once we move away, even though we all post on Facebook and like each others’ statuses. Something is lost.  And then when you factor in the ‘friends’ or people you follow on Twitter (or any social media platform) who you don’t actually know in real life and watch the way conversations tend to go on social media, you begin to see that there are an awful lot of people talking without speaking and hearing without listening, when you see how quickly such conversations can go sour. The silence that ensues from that kind of communication is the alienation of misunderstanding and talking past each other and the depression that can cause to descend, because the nature of the medium just does not lend itself to true conversation and understanding.  It just doesn’t.  And it is frustrating, because I believe we all long to be heard and understood and known and truly connected, not this false connection that social media fosters. It makes promises it just cannot deliver, like clouds that never bring rain. 

But that’s not all. My thoughts as I listen to this song drift along in other directions, too.

Take a look at this phrase:

“And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.”

I bet you can guess where I’m going with this one, but what comes to mind every time I hear this is the generation of smartphone zombies we’ve cultivated. When was the last time you were in a room with random strangers when the majority weren’t lost in the glow of a personal screen? When was the last time you were sitting in a restaurant and you didn’t see people sitting at the same table together, but lost in their own little private worlds, looking at their phones, not talking to the person right at the table with them? Do you even remember a time when you could strike up a friendly conversation in a waiting room or grocery store line because people weren’t consumed with their own private little world? Do you remember people actually smiling at each other or just noticing someone else was even there in such cases? Have you ever been walking along in the grocery store and seen many someones oblivious to the fact that anyone else was there because they were so engrossed in their private little smartphone worlds? In moments when we have to wait, what’s our first inclination? Pull out that phone and start scrolling or texting, right? It’s unthinkable that we might take that time and let boredom steer our minds to actually have to think on our own, or, gasp, actually talk to someone else. 

And then there is this: Want to try a scary little experiment? Take a walk down one of the busier streets in your neighborhood and count how many of the cars that drive by have a driver who is looking at a phone. I do this regularly and It’s quite terrifying. We’ve allowed ourselves to become addicted and enslaved to the dopamine hit of ever constant ‘new’ information. Only most of what we’re so enthralled with isn’t all that important, but we’re addicted, nonetheless.  Try leaving your phone at home sometime, or, hey, just leave it in the other room. See how long you can stand it.

We’ve opened a Pandora’s box with our constant connectivity that I’m not sure we can close again. And I’m right there in the thick of it, too, I’m not pointing any fingers that aren’t coming squarely back at me. 

I’ve seen studies that seem to point to a correlation in the rise in depression and suicide among our youth to the incidence of most people owning a smartphone. I think this bears some serious consideration. Is it possible, likely even, that with our constant connectivity we have sacrificed real, deep friendships for shallow ones, which means we are actually more alienated than ever? Is it possible that in the name of being more social, we’ve actually become much more consumed with ourselves, our image? We’ve become so consumed with taking the best selfies and posting the very best about ourselves and making sure our image is attractive that we aren’t really thinking about much of anything else, except maybe how offended we are about the current issue of the day and how we can best virtue signal how aware we are and how in tune we are with the current politically correct opinions. Are we more consumed with what we want to say than with how our words may affect other people? Are we more concerned with seeming to be in step with the culture than we are in thinking deeply about issues and searching the Bible to inform our thoughts rather than what the latest social issue people demand our thoughts should be? Don’t you see how quickly a social media thread can degenerate into unkind and unfair accusations and assumptions? Do you often walk away from reading social media feeling better about people? 

Granted this is anecdotal, but I heard a story the other day that shocked me and made me very, very sad.  I was talking to a realtor who told me that when she shows houses, very often her clients would prefer to text her their questions rather than ask them in person. I looked at her funny, and said, “You mean when they are right there in the room with you?” She said, “Yes.” I don’t know how common this actually is, but it is something she has experienced often enough that she was telling the story, and that just seems heartbreaking to me. Are we truly raising a generation that has lost even the barest minimum of social skills necessary to carry on a real conversation? Are we truly raising a generation that has lost the ability to have face-to-face, true relationships? Are we truly raising a generation that can’t enjoy a special moment without posting it, without having to seek the affirmation of their thousands of social media ‘friends?’  Are we truly raising a generation that has lost the skill of making genuine, deep friendships that do not have to be validated and upheld by Snapchat? Are we becoming so lost in our own little private worlds that we are missing the in-the-flesh people and needs all around us?

 I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I think part of what we lost in the Fall is the ability to truly be transparent and real with each other. No longer can we be naked and unashamed, not even emotionally. And now instead of being God-focused and others-focused, we are consumed with ourselves. Yet, don’t we long for true community and real connectedness? Don’t we long to know and be known? Isn’t that the draw of social media, that we can feel that what we have to say matters to someone, anyone? Isn’t that why we overshare the mundane details of our lives all over social media? Getting real and personal here, but perhaps, isn’t that why I’m writing this blog? To share my thoughts with someone who might listen? 

A few of us ladies were having a discussion recently about friendships among Christian women. One lady was lamenting the fact that it is hard to get past the surface where everyone seems so ‘perfect’ to where you can share what’s real with other women. That is part of what we, as the church, should be able to do better than anyone else. We are called to love one another. That involves getting to actually know one another. We have to let down some of those walls and actually speak and listen, even and especially when it’s uncomfortable. We need community. We long for it. We may not ever experience it perfectly this side of Heaven, but we who love Jesus should be striving for it among our brothers and sisters. Have you noticed how very often believers are described as family and as a Body together? Together.  I think we need to think long and hard about how important it is to put down our personal screens, spend less time cultivating our online pseudo community, look up, and expend the energy and even the sacrifices to get to know the few people we have in our real life circles, face-to-face. We are created for community. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves.

One way I’ve found that is refreshing and beneficial in building this kind of face-to-face community is to sit with a few friends and share scripture together and pray together, sharing our deepest heart desires as we pray fervently. This builds deep, Christ-centered friendship in a way social media never can. Taking a meal together and sharing our hearts over coffee and biblical wisdom, phones carefully tucked away, leads to much richer connection than hours staring at a glowing screen ever can. Another way to build the kind of true connection we long for is to serve together, striving side by side for the sake of the gospel - the good news that Jesus came to save sinners and reconcile us to God. He lived a perfect life and fulfilled God’s law for us, He died on the cross and rose again. By His blood we can be declared righteous and freed from the penalty of our sin, freed from the curse, and freed to love God and love others. We need flesh and blood friendships. We don’t need hundreds or thousands of ‘likes’ on our social media posts to affirm us. We need to be looking out, away from ourselves to others, to serving and loving others well, as we talk face to face and share real life experiences together. 

So, while I like that song, I don’t so much like the alienation masquerading as connectivity that so clearly marks this world my kids are growing up into. May I be one who seeks to look up and out and love well the people God has placed near me. May I be more concerned with loving others than I am with feeding my own pride. And that very well may mean posting and reading less and less on my social media platforms, and learning to be wise and teaching my children to be wise about how we use those platforms and not asking of them more than they can deliver. So be it. 

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Some Thoughts, A Book, A Song, and A Prayer

Reading Proverbs today, this verse stood out to me: 

Proverbs 28:26 “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

I believe some of the most dangerous advice dished out by our culture, especially in things aimed at children, is to follow your heart.  It’s the gospel of Disney, if you will. You also hear it expressed as, “follow your truth.” This is dangerous, because our hearts, in our natural state, are deceitful and desperately wicked. Things that seem right to us, quite often are treacherously wrong. That’s expressed in another Proverb, by the way. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” I must, must, must know, trust, believe, and obey God’s Word, not look to my own heart or understanding as my guide.  What I think and feel can deceive if my thoughts, feelings, and conscience are not informed deeply by God’s Word. His Word is truth. He will sanctify us in the truth.  I know this, because Jesus prayed for it in John 17. 

This is why that verse in Proverbs 3:5-7 that is so well known, but I wonder how well we actually follow it, is so important to ponder deeply and apply. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil.” This is the opposite of ‘follow your heart.” When my heart seeks after the things the world values and when my heart is convinced that what God’s Word calls evil is good or that what God’s Word calls good is evil, I must trust God’s Word, not my heart. I must be seeking first HIS kingdom, not my ‘truth.’  My one aim must be seeking HIS truth and living in its light, and loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength who died and rose again to reconcile me to Himself and enable me to die to myself and die to my sin and to live to love Him in spirit and and in truth. 

I’ve been thinking on these things in light of a book I’m reading, called Growing up Christian by Karl Gaustein with Mark Jacobsen. This is a wonderful tool, first for me as an adult who grew up as a ‘church kid,’ as I’m reminded how very grateful I am for the blessing of growing up in the home I did where my parents lovingly taught me God’s Word and modeled for me what it is to love Him, and how very grateful I am that God brought me through the navigation of the many dangers, too, and allowed me to emerge believing and growing in Christ, for granting me a faith that is real and alive. I am looking forward to sharing this book with my children, too, who are no longer little ones, but with one in college, one in high school, and one in middle school, they are people who have grown up as ‘church kids’ with all the blessings and dangers, too. May they learn to appropriate the faith as their own, to learn not to be complacent, to learn to trust God’s Word, not their own hearts, and see how amazing the grace of God that has been showered on us all truly is.

I called my parents the other day and tearfully thanked them for raising me as they did, and tearfully confessed how selfish I was as a young adult, not fully realizing how much they loved me. As the parent of a college aged young adult now, I see things I just did not see then, and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to see and thank God for the blessing of growing up in a Christian home, for the grace of saving faith, and for my parents’ love. I’m also thankful for their grace-filled response to my tears when I talked to them the other day. 

I listened to this song by Andrew Peterson this morning, and though I’m pretty sure I’ve probably shared it before, I just love this song, especially as I watch my children grow older. He captures well that tug in the heart as we learn to let them go as they grow. I do pray they will know the joy of trusting God with all their hearts as they grow into the adults they will be. 

Here are some scriptures I am using to inform my prayers for my children as they enter the confusing and challenging worlds of middle school, high school, and young adulthood: 

Jude 24-25 “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time, and now and forever. Amen.”

Philippians 1:9-11 “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Philippians 4:8-9 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me - practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” 

Proverbs 29:25 “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.”

Proverbs 28:26 “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

Psalm 119:9 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”

Proverbs 4:23 “Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life.”

Proverbs 23:15-18 “My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad. My inmost being will exult when your lips speak what is right.  Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day.  Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” 

How I pray that where we have been faithful, God will continue to embed the truth in their hearts, and yet, where we have been inconsistent, that God may have mercy and teach them to love Him in spite of our failings. He is a gracious and merciful Savior, and He is mighty to save! 

Monday, March 26, 2018

One Thing is Necessary

Luke 10:38-42
38 Now  as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”  41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” 

We had a women’s retreat this past weekend with the ladies from our church, and I wanted to put down some thoughts that were a takeaway for me so I don’t forget them. Our speaker, Betsy Harris, blessed us by speaking in three sessions on Growing in Godliness. We looked at examining our definition of godliness as more than mere behavior, but as that which is better defined as “devotion to God which results in actions which please God.” Deep devotion to God is the beginning and the goal. We spent much time developing what it is to be deeply devoted to God and having a deep and personal relationship with Him through cultivating a right fear of God, appreciation of the love of God, and desire for God. Recordings of her sessions will be available on the church website soon and I recommend them! 

There was so much that I took notes on and am going to benefit from reviewing, but I am not going to go in depth in this blogpost. Here I just wanted to share something that struck me and that I’m still pondering and meditating on today. The second session dealt with training for Godliness, and she closed it with the passage from Luke 10 about Mary and Martha that is so very familiar to many of us. But this time as I listened to Betsy describe the language in the passage, how Martha basically bursts out and demands that Jesus tell Mary to help her, I got to thinking about it in a way I hadn’t before. I’ve usually heard this taught as sort of a caution against being distracted and caring too much about putting on a perfect dinner party or caught up in the busyness of life and neglecting time with the Lord, and that is correct. But what truly struck me was Jesus’ compassion for her in her distraction and frustration. 

Here’s what I’m getting at. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet learning from Him, in a culture and time when rabbis did not teach women, Jesus was willing and wanted to teach her. She was learning from Jesus, God With Us, the Lamb who would take away the sin of the world. And the tragedy is that Martha was missing this opportunity. She was missing it! And it seems from the exchange, that she was missing it for the sake of an expectation she had placed on herself, that it wasn't something Jesus was asking her to do. She would have been welcome to sit at his feet, too. In her good intentions to serve well, she was missing the main thing! She was missing the precious opportunity to be taught by the rabbi of all rabbis because she was ‘anxious and troubled about many things,’ yet she was missing the main thing, the one thing that is necessary - to hear from Jesus. And Jesus is so very gentle in His correction, drawing her back to the main thing.

I don’t know how to write this in a way that adequately conveys why that brought me to tears, but I think it’s the tragedy of missing it, missing the main thing while being busy with important, but not most necessary things.  How often do I rush, rush, rush through reading my Bible in the morning but neglect to really think about what I’ve read to the point where I’m taking part in what is most necessary, to commune with Jesus and train my heart to desire Him first? How often do I not take the time to pray until I’ve truly prayed? How often to I go through the motions during the day and not reflect upon what an awesome thing it is that God would save any of us, let alone that He would save me?

May I develop a right fear of God that leads to a deep reverence and devotion to Him that wells up in a right rejoicing in Him that grows and leads to actions that please Him every day. I’m thankful we got to ponder growing in Godliness this weekend, and I pray it will produce good fruit in the days to come.