Sunday, October 27, 2013

Just Doing my Job

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 
Deuteronomy 6:5-7
     These words sum up God's calling on my life, my primary ministry, and the reason for my current occupation. This was something He has whispered to me through the years, reminding me time and again what it is He wants me to do.Slow student that I am, it is only now--approximately half-way through my homeschool journey--that I am starting to truly see what it looks like lived out in my real life.

     As I look into this commission from the Lord, I see that my priorities have often been out of line with His. Often, I have thought of my  home school as another part of my job and not THE job. I have tried to keep up with the duties that have been mine since my husband and I first decided that I should stay home with the children, that is to say, the typical duties of a stay-at-home mom. For years, I also tried to keep up with ministry opportunities, particularly in helping other people by watching their children when needed.

     I have to stop here and say that I still do this, however, I have finally learned that I do not need to say "yes" every single time a person asks me. I need to go before God, Who is my employer, and ask Him what He would have me do. If His answer is "Yes," so is mine, but likewise if He replies, "No."  For some reason, this has not been easy for me. I suppose it is pride, really, if I have to name it. The greatest conflict for me, however, is probably the thing I am doing right now. I have felt called of God to continue writing, and every time I have entertained the idea of giving it up, He has reaffirmed His command and I find I cannot. Sometimes the two callings have seemed conflicting to me, at least until I finally sat down and listened to my Lord.

    You see, it is not what I do that has been the greatest problem. What God has revealed to me is that my heart attitudes have been incorrect. Often, instead of seeing every other task (including writing) as secondary to my primary job as a home-schooler, I have often looked at school as almost an interruption of my duties. I have even been known to try to write during school hours while the children were working independently, which is not wrong in itself, of course. My iniquity occurs when the kids need help and I would snap,"Just a second!" and finish my thought instead of dropping the thread to help them. Friends, could you imagine hearing that your child's teacher was irritated when she had to teach? It wasn't until I saw it that clearly that I was humbled enough to let God determine the whens as well as the whats of my schedule. There is nothing so important that I need to write--I am just hashing out my own spiritual journey and "thinking out loud," or at least digitally. However, for this season my kids do need me, and they need me available as a teacher. To balance both callings is not so hard, really. It is a matter of allowing God to prioritize my time and not trying to do it all.

     The real turnaround came for me when it finally dawned on me that I was not treating my job like a job. Because I was "just" homeschooling, I allowed myself to feel inadequate. I felt that I had to say, "Yes" to others because I wasn't "really" doing anything. However, this honestly dishonored my Employer. If I had a "real" job and worked outside the home for money, I would treat my work environment very differently.  What did that say about my understanding of my calling, then? I was sobered when I realized it said more about my belief in God than anything else. Worse, I realized that if I really loved Him with "all my heart and all my soul and all my might," obedience would be a no-brainer, for I would fall over myself to obey though I looked like a fool to all the world because of it. No, sadly, I was too aware of my own "rights" and my personal priority list to allow God's to take precedent. I wanted to serve Him, but I still wanted to put parameters on it. I had to truly humble my heart before Him and beg for greater love so that I could love Him more. Thankfully, His answer was a "yes."

     Needless to say, I am now learning to say, "no," when I need to and to let my other duties to take a backseat to school--even when each school day for our entire first quarter took up all the hours between 8:30 and 4:30 or later! My resolve was tested at the beginning of this year (and I am sure it will be again,) however praise be to God and by His mercy only, I managed to keep school the main focus--and I am seeing better attitudes about work from each of my kids because of it. What a joy!

    With the writing, I fight the same feeling. I am not doing it for a "real" reason. There is no payment, no reward for me. However, I am again reminded that reward is not the point of a calling; it is obedience. I am not called to write for accolades, nor for my glory, but for His. I can only hope I do honor that. Sometimes I am merely thinking through an issue, at other times I want to share strong personal convictions or how God has humbled my stubborn, proud heart on a matter. Sometimes it is something that I have learned from His Word that I passionately want to share with others. The process and the results, I admit, can be frustrating, and I often feel like a freak--or rather that my freakishness is out there for all the world to see if they wanted to look. Still, when I want to quit, He reminds me on this count as in my home school that I am not doing it for personal gain, nor am I doing it for comfort, nor for renown or even for self help. I am doing it because He told me to. Period.

     And this year so far, I am finding that that is reason enough. In simple obedience without extras, I have discovered tangible, vast, and indescribable joy. Did I say for no reward? Silly girl! There is nothing on earth greater than the undeserved Reward I have already been given!

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 
Psalms 73:21-26

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why I Hate Halloween

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. 
Philippians 4:8
  There are some holidays that I just can't get my head around. Halloween is one of these. Through the years, I have grappled with this autumn marketing nightmare of a manufactured holiday. I have researched the beginnings and found negligible and inconclusive references to the medieval Catholic custom of All Saint's Day on November first (of which the word "Hallowe'en" would be a contraction of All Hallow's Even referring to the evening before) and to an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain.  In neither case--the end of summer feast nor the day of prayer for the martyrs of the Church--do I see anything resembling the harvest-time debacle celebrated today with haunted houses, costumes that have become more elaborate as I have grown older, and mountains of candy. All in all, I am not really sure why I dislike this holiday so much, but this year I have taken some time to ponder my reasons.

     Perhaps it is the simple fact that I sometimes get the feeling some forgotten economist in our nation's history sat around and cooked up holidays to stimulate the market in lagging months. I feel the same about Valentine's day quite despite the fact that the late-winter candyfest celebrates love rather than all things gruesome and rotting, though that is a rant for another day. Perhaps this is not the case, but I do know that what once was a relatively minor event in which moms would slap a worn sheet or a ten-cent set of plastic teeth and grandma's old faux fur coat on their kids and send them out to collect candy has now become a major merchandising spree with all stores sporting a variety of black and orange candies, dishes, and a dizzying display of costumes ranging from fairly simple to incredibly elaborate--and expensive.

     Then again, it may be my abhorrence of all things ghoulish. It's not that I think others are wrong for enjoying the ghastly and the macabre, but I personally do not find pleasure in them. To me, it is an annual reminder of pre-Christ fascinations for which I am now ashamed. You see, in my youth before I knew the Lord, I had an interest in the occult, I read about the wicca, I toyed with Ouija boards. I was genuinely innocent, not really believing in such things but I did have a sort of morbid interest in the possibility of a spiritual realm beyond what I could see. During these months, I had a handful of encounters that shook me, including one where a random man whom I had never met walked up to me with a knowing look in his eye and handed me the card of a wiccan high priest.He was gone when I looked up from reading the card. There were other occurrences that I would rather not bring up, but suffice to say that in those few but closely-timed events, the mask of this world slipped and I saw that there was a very real, very present spiritual element behind the shiny surface of the American dream.

     Fortunately, my naivete was so great that these things conspired not to draw me in but to cause me to reject the darkness vehemently and began the process that opened my eyes and heart to my Lord Christ. I cannot claim any merit of my own for this, only that the Lord had designs on my life and used my youthful interest to awaken me to a greater reality. This is why, when I finally came to Christ on my knees and broken that I had even entertained the thought of dabbling in things so vile, I had absolutely no trouble accepting the fact that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness..."  For me, this was not a poetic description but a gritty reality. I had seen those spiritual forces of wickedness, faces leering at me, smug in their certainty that I would come as they beckoned.

     The fact is, there is an actual evil stalking this world today. It can be seen murdering babies in the womb in the name of convenience and in the "you deserve it" mentality of self-gratification. It is found in children's programming that champions disrespectful and selfish attitudes and in adult programs that endorse negative thinking towards spouses or children. It is evident as abuse in the guise of disciplinary action and lurks behind the lack of any confrontation or discipline for wrong behavior or the refusal to accept responsibility for sin. It gnaws the face off a homeless man, and it quietly swindles elderly widows, sometimes even in the name of Jesus Christ. It is both brutal and subtle, shocking and silent. It displays itself brazenly in hideous, revolting ways and it dazzles and confounds with a slyly handsome facade.

     Evil is a reality, and I simply do not wish to parody or play with it in any way, nor do I wish my children to be desensitized to it in even a small degree. Halloween reminds me of the gruesome realities of the greater spiritual battle that we face each morning both out in the world and within our own hearts. It makes me sorrowful for all those who are yet deceived as I once was, lulled into complacency and unaware of the spiritual battle that rages around them. It reminds me that I am the chief of sinners, once rejecting and mocking the King who died as a substitute for me. I am humbled and grateful at the extent of His forgiveness, and because of it I have no wish to revisit in even the most playful or lighthearted way the darkness of my past.

     I want to be clear: I cast no judgement upon others who find enjoyment in haunted houses and zombie makeup. Perhaps it is simply that my faith is too small for me to enjoy these things. . . I am fine with admitting that, for I have not yet moved a mountain nor caused a tree to uproot and plant itself in the sea. There is nothing in my life to point to a mighty or an earth-shaking faith, and I certainly do not think more highly of myself because I choose not to participate in the October 31 festivities. I simply do not enjoy them in the slightest, and this little rant is merely a partial summary of my reasons. I do not need reminders of the evil in this world. I am far too weak, and such things only trigger anxiety. Each year I have dreaded the day, and our family has done everything from participate in ministry outreaches such as "mugging" houses (giving candy and a mug instead of taking candy--one of my favorite Halloweens ever) to renting a hotel room and going swimming at the indoor pool. Whatever we end up doing each year, I do know that I would much prefer to avoid all that is fearsome and ghoulish and keep my mind fixed instead on all that is good and just and pure and holy--on the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Only enveloped in His presence do I find hope, joy, and peace. And that, my friends, is precisely where I want to be.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 
1 Timothy 1:12-17

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation."
          Acts 2:37-40
       I wonder sometimes, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if we do not often mistake good music or even our own jubilant mood for the movement of the Holy Spirit. I say this only because I have heard words like, "I really felt the Spirit moving during worship today!" on a Sunday when the band or worship team was particularly well-tuned. I have also heard it said that, "I could never worship there--the music is terrible!" These are only two examples of a myriad that I have picked up in conversations here and there throughout the years, but all such statements have left me with a sense of disquiet.

     For I have to say, I have personally felt the joyous weight of the Holy Spirit in my life and these intense movements occur less often during a corporate worship gathering than some of these speakers might imagine. Even during corporate worship, the music or the preaching has little to do with the Spirit working within my heart--and often the work of the Spirit is intensely uncomfortable, driving me to repentance and sorrow that I have sinned against the Man who ransomed my life mingled with a joy that He would even take note of me at all, much less die for me. I think if we truly felt the Spirit moving, we would be different people altogether--changed utterly and lastingly and not a mere emotional high that fades with the music and the return of the hum-drum of daily living.
     Neither do I think the blame for the inability to worship lies in the laps of either the worship teams or the preachers. If I can only worship in certain conditions, it is a reflection of the state of my heart rather than a reflection on my environment, for true worship wells up within and spills out regardless of what is going on around on the outside. I have had the perfect worship environment and yet found my heart to be cold and listless. On the contrary, I have been in places where there was no music at all when worship spontaneously erupted from me. Such times include doing menial work around the house or yard, walking my dogs, praying or reading the Word, and even incongruously during times of deep sadness or heartache. I have also had very excellent times of worship in the traditional models of churches that many of my peers would deem "dead," as well as during liturgical services where I had been invited as someone's guest. True and genuine worship, I have found, has mostly to do with the focus of my mind and heart and less to do with the external trappings of church services. True worship goes on throughout the week and leaves me eager to find what God will say to me the next morning and the next... and even able to be patient when He seems silent for a time, anticipating with joy the next time He should choose to speak.

     As I  have read through Scripture, I have also noted that the movement of the Holy Spirit always brought two main things: repentance and joy. Genuine repentance brings joy, and true joy is borne out of a contrite heart. There are many other things that we see in the Word: Great power and boldness, healing and even spontaneous ability to speak in other languages so that foreigners could hear the Gospel preached. In all cases, however, these things brought about repentance and a renewing of passionate love and zeal for God, sometimes bringing in large numbers of people and at other times only a single person or family.  This is the sort of revival I long to see today--this revival that goes beyond discussion and head knowledge of the word to changed hearts and changed lifestyles all for the love of the glory of the Lord.

     I have been ruminating on both of these subjects recently, even more intensely since my last trek through the dark valleys that God used to bring about genuine revival in my own heart. It has weighed heavily upon me since then to plead for continued revival, not only of my heart but in the hearts of my children, my family, my church, and my nation. If you are reading this, I pray that God would revive your heart, too, beloved. I pray that You would see Him in all His splendor and glory--or as much as a finite mind can handle--and that you would see that He is worthy of any and all sacrifice. I pray that you will be unafraid to come to Him, unafraid to lay down every aspect of your life within and without and experience the wonder of His healing and the joy of serving Him. I pray that there is nothing you would hold back, for my friend, I promise you that there is nothing on this earth that compares with Christ. When you fall head over heels for Him, it will not seem that He is making you give up certain things you hold dear. Rather, you will forget all about them in the all-consuming wonder of His mercy and grace.

     Lord, bring about a true revival of Your people today and through those changed lives draw many more into Your glorious Presence to accept the salvation freely offered by Your Son. May we be willing and unafraid to change our lives completely as You guide us. Bring purity to bear in us, even to the most private of our thoughts or the most carefully guarded desires of our hearts. Be our focus, be our King, be our everything.Increase our love for You and Your Word until it overwhelms and colors every other aspect of our lives. We ask this in Your name and for Your glory, amen. 

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.' As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.'" Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 
Hebrews 3:7-14

Friday, October 4, 2013

New Life

    A Psalm of David. Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah
Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge! Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! For your name's sake, O LORD, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant. Psalms 143:1-12

 Just days ago, I was afforded an opportunity to visit with an old and cherished friend whom I have not seen in a few years. What a store of memories were brought back by that simple visit! My wedding, the births of my daughters, the birth of her son, days of long talks and open schedules, trips to the zoo... These are the memories of a life just beginning, a focusing of my efforts and the efforts of my husband into one and of the beginning of our journey as a family.

     Not all the memories were happy ones, however, as both her life and mine have held their share of grief and pain, not the least of which is my friend's loss of her husband and the father of her handsome young son, a man I will call S.  It is a loss that brings sorrow, for he is still alive and yet he is lost in the truest sense of the word-- lost in a dark valley of pain. He is a captive in chains made from links forged by others during his childhood. The heaviest burdens he carries, however, are those links forged by his own hands; heavy cords of despair that have caused him to flee all he has known, even changing his name in an effort to escape his bonds. This makes me weep, for I, too, have felt that pain. I know what it is like to suffer under the weight of my own bad decisions, to feel trapped inside a prison of flesh from which there really is no acceptable method of escape.

      The loss of him pains my family, too, because he was my husband's best man and the one who gave my man a leg up in the business that now funds our homeschool and has provided me the ability to stay home and train my children as a full-time job. This man was a beloved friend, but we were young and at the time did not know the value of expressing love. His parting tore our hearts in addition to the fracturing of his family unit, but for years all of that emotion was swept aside in the business of raising and feeding our own family. Our friend, too, has been kept busy trying to provide for her son, working to raise and train him with the added burden of helping provide a relationship with his distant but interested father, and the years have crept silently up between us. It was good to reconnect; good to begin to sift those old memories.

      As I have reflected on all that has passed and all the time in between, my mind drifts to ruminations of my life before Christ. For when we lived next door to S., even before my dear friend came into our lives, I was a captive in chains of my own making. I was a prisoner of my own poor decisions. I was in a dark and lonesome valley of suffering, and for the most part I had walked blithely into that valley fully embracing the moral norms of today, the "try before you buy" philosophy for dating and marriage and the sound-seeming advice of  "follow your heart." The problem was that my heart was a mess, and so I was following an ever-fluctuating and fickle thread that led me unfailingly into deeper and deeper problems. It was here that I met S., pregnant and unwed and at the very bottom of the chasm into which my heart had led me.

     It was not long after I met my husband and S. that he met the woman I now know as a friend, a woman who was soon to take pictures at my wedding, bail me out of a couple of medical disasters, and stick with us through her own tumultuous marriage, childbirth, and divorce. Somewhere in the chaos of our two lives, I picked up and read the Bible for myself with my first heartfelt prayer on my lips: "God, if You are there, You will have to make me believe because I don't." He did, and in the course of reading that wonderful Book I found myself often in tears asking Him why He would do this or that until suddenly one day I realized I had been talking with Him. Belief was no longer an issue, and over time He revealed more to me than I could ever have dreamed. But that is another story for another time. My friend's life and mine took paths that would seldom cross over the next few years, but during one of those crossings I had the great joy of sharing my faith with her and of seeing her begin to walk with the Lord in her own life journey.

     Before I drop the thread of my past entirely, I would like to add an aside...  It is more than a little ironic that I, who once rejected God and "religion" as being for the weak and simple, now find that fact to be utterly true. It was in trying to prove my strength that I found how pitiful it was; in trying to prove my wisdom that I found it, too, to be wispy and frail. God is for the weak--that is precisely the beauty of Him, for all of mankind is weaker than they like to believe. It takes one natural disaster, one vehicle accident, one fell disease, one bout with cancer or the like to rip through the armor of our strength and wealth and expose the small and fearful being trembling inside. But He came to save the weak, downtrodden, and brokenhearted and so our weakness is good news indeed! He came to give us, not only a new life, but His life--the very essence of life, the very substance of love. It is true: on my own I am fragile and powerless. In Christ alone am I strong; not of my own merit but His power working within me, making me new.
     Today, as I look back,. my heart is full of fondness for my friend and for her young son and gratitude that, though several years slipped by in between visits, we can still come together as friends, and I look forward to the sharing and catching up that we will do in the future. I look forward to our children playing together and enjoying one another. And I pray... S. has recently reached out to my husband after a vast gulf of time during which we thought he had turned his back on us forever. Now my prayer is that my friend's patient compassion with him and his son's love for him will draw him. I pray that the tenuous and tentative contact he has made with my husband will develop into a renewal of friendship.  Most earnestly, however, I pray that this man will find, as I did, that he is helpless before the relentless crush of time. I pray that he can recognize his inability to change the passing days and in his weakness he will finally and truly cry out and find that there is One strong enough to rescue him, One whose light will illuminate the darkest corner, One whose sacrifice was enough to pay the ransom for the most grievous misdeeds. I pray that he will find forgiveness, healing, and a new life as I once did. For in Christ, one can truly cast off the stains and grime of the past forever, putting on a fully changed, pristine new life in its stead.

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope... 
Psalms 130:3-5