Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sports Cars can't Hone

"Iron sharpens iron, and one mans sharpens another."
Proverbs 27:17

The other night my husband and I were watching TV and a restaurant commercial came on. This company has used sex for several years to sell hamburgers. My husband surprised me by saying rather assertively, "And that is why I never go there!" His statement lead to a fun discussion about commercials.

We both agreed that companies that use sex to sell, aren't very creative. It is the easy go to, and probably works. We both admitted to liking humorous commercials, especially ones that contain spunky people in them. We also acknowledged that sentimental commercials usually keep us engaged and get an, "Awe...." from both of us. On a side note, I especially have a fondness for Hallmark commercials. It isn't because I necessarily like them. I typically think them a bit mushy, but they were the best pregnancy test on the market when I was having my babies. Before I would even know I was pregnant one of those commercials would come on TV and I would dissolve into tears. When the tears came, my husband would turn and look at me with big eyes and I would know, it was time to buy a pregnancy test. Every time it happened I was pregnant
We noticed that over the years we liked commercials that portrayed the life stage we were currently in. As newly weds, commercials that showed engagements, weddings, or honey mooning couples appealed to us. A few years into marriage a coffee company put out a series of commercials about a couple who met over coffee and built a relationship. The series of commercials told the couple's love story over time. We both would stop what we were doing to watch those commercials when new ones came out. As we started having kids, commercials with cute kids  in them made us smile. After all who wouldn't be drawn to dancing kids or toddlers toddling in green socks? Then as our kids were leaving home the one commercial we both liked was a coffee commercial. A sister wakes up early to her big brother coming home for Christmas. They enjoy a quiet moment before mom and dad smell the coffee and come running down. Then when our sons went to war, any commercial with military families in it would tug on our hearts. Now it is the grandchildren and puppy commercials drawing our attention. 

After the conversation with my husband, I have been thinking about the science commercial making.  I am not against commercials. They serve a purpose in our economic world. Some are informative, some remind me I need to write something on the grocery list, and some help me decide to try a new product when I am not happy with one I am using. We also all know that many commercial are very misleading or full of lies.

The people who create commercials will make commercials that appeal to our senses, our emotions, or our desires. As a believer I was struck that the tactics they use are similar to the tactics of the Enemy listed in 1 John 2:16--the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. It didn't really surprise me in that we are ambassadors living in a world system in which the Enemy is very active. I think we could categorize commercial by these tactics and become wiser consumers. 

Recently I saw a commercial that evoked a strong angry response from me and it wasn't even a commercial using sex to sell. It was a car commercial that started out like the sentimental commercials I like. It showed all the cars a couple bought over the years for the different life stages they were in. Towards the end of the commercial the dad handed his car keys over to his daughter and she pulled out of the driveway. The camera then switched over to the dad pulling out of the garage in a little sports car with the commentator saying, "And the car that reminds you of you when you were you."

I admit they initially sucked me in, as we had to change cars several times as our family grew large. I even admit I initially lit up when I saw the sports car. I have wanted a red convertible sports car every since I was fifteen. In my mind, I pictured my hair blowing, the warm sun on my face, loud praise music playing as I sped over mountain curves. But I got married and we chose to put my husband through six years of graduate school. Then came five kids. A sports care wasn't financially feasible on a graduate students salary or very practical for a large family. And the reality is with a mild case of PTSD being in any car, much less a sports car with wind in my face isn't really fun for me. Not ever getting the sports car isn't what made me angry at the commercial; it was the lie that is in embedded in the comment that was made as the man drove off.

For you see, as a math major I could have gone on to graduate school and made quite a bit of money and gotten that little red sports car I thought I wanted at the time. But I chose marriage and marriage didn't make me less me. In fact, marriage brought out the best of me and the worst of me. It brought out in me a heart full of compassion and love for a man who had a very difficult childhood and who was told he wouldn't amount to much. Yet we got through school together and he graduated as Dr. Daddy, partly because I believed in him. When ever we hit rough spots in our marriage I look at his childhood pictures and remind myself that I am married to that cute little guy in coveralls and my pride melts and my love grows.

Being married exposed the ugly selfishness residing in my heart and my tendency to be self-centered. We both had to learn a lot about compromise and learning to set goals together. We had to learn to look at ourselves when conflict arose, because the other wasn't capable of making us angry, it was his selfishness bumping against my selfishness that did that. Nope, neither of us became less of ourselves, we became better selves because of what our relationship exposed and the lessons we learned from that exposure. I learned that a soft answer could truly turn away wrath, that love covered a multitude of sins, that grace is experienced the most in intimate relationships, and that some of the best confrontations are gentle ones. Marriage was that iron sharpening iron that God talks about in His word! I needed it badly!

By the time kids came along, I thought we had grown quite a bit and life would be smooth sailing. I was mistaken. I found having five kids did the same thing marriage did--it brought out the best in me and exposed the worst parts of me. I never felt more like who I was supposed to me than when I was pregnant and carried a moving being inside. I would sit for hours and watch the movements and connect with feet and fists. I have never been able to find words to describe how full of love my heart was and is when it comes to my kids (and my grandkids.) That love gave me what I needed to get up all night with crying kids, wipe snotty noses, clean stinky bottoms, wash away blood from wounds, scrub dirty bathrooms when little guys missed the pot, cook countless dinners, wash sink loads of dishes, wash and fold mountains of laundry, pray over sick children, referee squabbles, listen to endless chatter, hold kids with ear aches and asthma all night, and sit by a hospital bed for two weeks,

But it also brought out the worst in me. The time that a knick knack got broken and brought out my wrath. The times the angry voice came out of my mouth and lectured kids who couldn't even process all those words I thought I needed to say, The times I asked the kids how their day at school went and realized when I pulled into the drive way that I had tuned them out as they told me. The banquets I missed as I isolated myself due in the midst of an eating disorder. Believe me, I could go on and on and on. Having kids didn't make me less me. It exposed the ugly parts of me that needed to be transformed. It exposed the immature parts of me that needed to grow. Being a mom did not make me less of me, it made me more of who God created me to be. Having a sports car earlier in life would not have helped me be more of me. Having sports car now would not make me more me! A sports car could not do for me what being married and having children did. I confess I needed the iron sharpening iron of relationships to grow and become a better me and I needed all the grace I could get in that process.

The line in the commercial bothered me because our society is plagued by broken families. The kinds of statements in that commercial appeal to our pride and resemble the temptation in the garden that implies so subtly that something is missing if we don't have something. In my eyes, there is nothing more manly than a married man loving his wife with his words, his actions, and his sacrifice. There is nothing more manly than a man playing with his children, praying faithfully for them, disciplining them with love, and giving grace when they need it most. There is nothing more manly than a man who is worn out and feeling inadequate who wants to leave, but chooses to stay. And there is nothing more beautiful than a wife who respects her man. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom feeding a baby from her body. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom rocking a sick toddler all night long. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom taking her son on a dinner date. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom dancing with her daughter as if no one is watching. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom graciously cleaning up milk spilt by two brothers proving strength in an arm wrestling match. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom hugging a child who was dumped by the boy or girl who didn't deserve them any way. There is nothing more beautiful than a worn out mom who is tempted to run from the chaos of family, choosing to stay. Nothing! That is the stuff that real men and women are made of. They push through fear and selfishness and embrace the iron sharpening iron process. I am, I have always been, and I will always be fully me!

Take note car company. You might have sucked me in had you not ended the commercial on that note!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Could those Words be Served with Grace and a Sprinkling of Salt?

"Let your speech always be gracious seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."
Colossians 4:6

I was born with a very sensitive heart. As a result, harsh words had the tendency to deeply wound me. I still remember my mom trying to comfort me by telling me old sayings she thought would help me not be so sensitive. Two of the sayings that stick out in my mind are, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," and "I am rubber and you are glue, what you say bounces off me and sticks to you." Sadly, I can remember my siblings and I passionately shouting the latter to each other as we spewed cruel words during childish arguments. Though my mom was well intentioned, I drew the conclusion that either Mom was wrong or something  was wrong with me  as  words continued to hurt this sensitive heart.

After I became a believer, I found the Bible had a lot to say about words. In his Epistle, James points out that man can control a wild horse with a small bridle and sailing ships with a tiny rudder, yet has little control over the small muscle we call tongue. If we're honest, we must admit James tells the truth when he says we have a tendency to bless God with our mouths while tearing down those He created.

Sometimes  biting words are direct, harsh, and judgmental. At times they are hidden behind false  masks of sweetness, sounding almost appropriate. However, they still carry a punch that tears at the heart and causes confusion, leaving one to wonder if she really heard what she heard.  Some words are left unspoken, leaving stone-cold silences and tense body language to  convey that we don't honor another enough to communicate with him or her.

Being believers didn't automatically solve the sin problem with the tongue. I've been verbally assaulted by just as many believers as nonbelievers and I've been guilty of verbally assaulting others. Sadly, the wounds of Christian brothers and sisters tend to be wounds that run deep and fester ugly. A part of the reason for this is that when people seek counsel at church for verbal wounds, they are shamed for having not forgiven. Yet forgiveness in itself doesn't erase the pain being caused  by  hurtful words. Forgiveness is often pushed because someone doesn't want to listen and validate another's pain, because someone doesn't like confrontation, or because someone doesn't like to teach a new believer about finding their worth in Christ. After all, dealing with patterns of sin is always painful and messy and convicting. So, it's easier to just rewound and silence the hurting.

As I've spent time doing research on the internet, I've looked at the comments following articles to see how people respond to what they read. When an article covers a Christian topic or a believer, the comments of many nonbelievers are brutal towards believers. I expected this. However, what I didn't expect was the hatefulness of comments left by people who claim to be believers. The Bible makes it clear that we should expect  nonbelievers to be hostile towards us. It also makes it clear that right now we aren't living in a Christian Kingdom. We're ambassadors in a fallen world, representing God to people who have no premise to understand us. If God's word is true, then we must expect persecution for speaking truth, for stating godly opinions, and for openly living  out faith in a world that lives from a fallen, "me" perspective.

I find myself wondering if we, as believers, have always been so harsh and unloving when we share our thoughts, opinions, and beliefs or have we become even more harsh and hateful in this electronic age. After all, with the internet we have a certain amount of anonymity that allows us to be brutal without accountability. On line we don't see the immediate impact of our words on another's face. It allows us to be more sarcastic, more harsh, and more judgmental towards people we don't know. It allows us to speak truth, without pulling the logs out of our own eyes and dealing with our own sin. I am afraid we believers often come across as pious, unloving people. 

I have also noticed that many believers are expressing frustration and anger that we are being criticized for expressing our opinions. I know in our country freedom of speech is supposed to be protected and we expect to be able to speak without being harassed. But we have to remember that as ambassadors our views will not be readily understood. More and more believers are complaining about being persecuted, and some people are definitely being persecuted. However, after reading some of the comments believers leave, I'm afraid that what some are claiming to be persecution is merely a backlash for ungodly words impulsively type during heated debates.

Several years ago when I was a volunteer youth leader, I gave a young lady a ride home. She had moved to California from the Bible belt and was such a sweet girl. I asked her how her day had gone and she began to tell me about a class discussion and the cruel things a young man had said to her because of the stand she had taken. I noticed that as she spoke tears began to roll down her face. I gently said, "What the student said to you, must have really hurt." She gently shook her head no and said, "These tears aren't for me! They are for him. He's so lost and doesn't even know it." I can't tell you how much her statement convicted me. She loved the guy with a godly love and she lovingly shared her faith in the face of his skepticism and disrespectful mocking. She was proactive, rather than reactive. She chose intentional words, not defensive ones.

Every time I read Colossians 4:6, I am reminded of my young friend. She was a beautiful blend of grace and salt that day. Her grace was exhibited by how she treated the people in the debate. Her grace was exhibited by her desire to look past their behavior to the fact that they didn't know God. Her grace was exhibited by her desire for them to hear the good news and accept Christ. Her grace was exhibited when she didn't back down from the conversation at school, willingly engaging even though she knew she would be ridiculed for her beliefs. Her grace was also evident in that even when others mistreated her she remained calm and nonjudgmental in her stance. Her ability to show grace under pressure stemmed from realistic, Bible-based expectations and an intimate understanding of the love and grace she herself had received from God.

My young friend's speech was also definitely seasoned with salt. The words she used were an offering of truth, a soul cleansing antiseptic. They were a an offering of words that had the potential to  preserve  lives. In addition, she was wisely sensitive to just how much salt her friends could  tolerate. Some people, like myself, salt anything, including apples, melons, and caramel. Others use salt sparingly. for them a little salt goes a long ways. She realized that was true of her friends. With some she could share a lot of "salt" at a time and with others, she had to give it in more sparing doses for it to be tolerated long enough to be accepted. My friend also didn't get upset because her classmates didn't agree with her, she knew it was the Holy Spirit's job to convict them and to change their hearts. Nor did she get angry or feel insecure when others didn't agree with her, she simply quietly grieved the hardness of their hearts and their rejection of the God she loved.

My friend only lived here for one year and I felt honored to have had her in my life. It was convicting to see someone half my age understand God's calling on her life. But it was even more convicting to see someone so young understand her role as a believer and understand the importance of speaking the truth in such a loving way that both grace and salt were evident. Her understanding of her classmates was proof she not only spoke the truth, but she gave them the respect due them as image bearers. She had also given them the respect of actively listening to their words, helping her to know how to respond in ways that had the potential to draw them to the Lord.   

To be honest, after that conversation with my young friend, I did some self reflection and had to do some confessing for the lack of control I had over my own tongue. I also learned from my young friend that I didn't have to take offense when someone calls me and other Christians hypocrites, ignorant fools, or judgmental bigots. I am not defined by their words. I am defined by what Christ did for me on the cross and what He has said of me in His Word. He has called me things like chosen, beloved, gracious, accepted, and gifted. When I believe these things I act out of who He defines me to be instead of my fleshly defensiveness. I know for myself that responding to my world with godly speech can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit and it can only be done when my love for others is bigger than my human pride, bigger than my desire to win arguments, and bigger than my desire to have others tell I am right.

The way I look at it, as a child of the King of kings I am privileged! But, with that privilege comes great responsibility and one of those responsibilities is to relate and to communicate in loving ways no matter what the circumstances. Am I perfect at it? NO! But, I believe I am improving and it is truly my hearts desire. Oh, that the Lord would give me a bigger filter so that my words would always be gracious and seasoned with salt that I might know how to how to respond to each person God brings into my life.                                                            

Monday, June 1, 2015

For those Days We feel Invisible, Insignificant, and Inferior

Most of us who've attended church as children are familiar with the children's song ,"Zacchaeus the Wee Little Man." It is easy to understand why children like this Bible story (Luke 19:1-10). They can identify with being small in a world designed for big people. we felt frustrated because we didn't feel seen or because we couldn't see everything we wanted to see. Climbing a tree is something we could envision us doing to to see more. But this story isn't just for children, it is for us adults as well. It tells us a whole lot about our great God and it tells us a whole lot about ourselves.
Zacchaeus was a Jewish man who lived in the town of Jericho. He was of tiny stature and in his culture that meant he was often overlooked and looked down upon. In addition he had become a chief tax collector for the Roman government. His peers believed he was doing "dirty work" for the Roman government and treated him as if he were an enemy. In addition, most tax collectors became rich by taking extra taxes from people to keep for themselves. So, it was likely his peers believed he had been personally robbing them. For all of these reasons, it was likely that he was very unpopular in the Jewish community.
Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus, but he didn't know him personally. But, what he had heard about Him had piqued his curiosity, causing him to join the crowd when Jesus came to Jericho. But because of his stature, He couldn't see Him and no one in the crowd was willing to make room for him. So, he ran ahead of Jesus and climbed up in a tree and waited for Jesus to come to get a glimpse of Him. When Jesus came, He paused beneath Zacchaeus and he looked up and called him by name! It amazed Zacchaeus that Jesus knew his name and where he was perched before He had even looked up. Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus' home and he responded by coming down from the tree. 
Zacchaeus found in Christ a love and an acceptance that he was hungry for as a person well acquainted with rejection. In light of his reputation, few people would have made eye contact with him, fewer would have acknowledged his presence, and even fewer would have spent time in deep fellowship with him. They couldn't trust him. His quest for money left him very much alone. 
As he began to experience Christ's pure love, Zacchaeus realized all the wealth he had accumulated couldn't satisfy his heart hunger like Jesus could. As a result, he was changed from being a "thief" to being a "giver." He told Christ he would restore what he took fourfold! The crowd had criticized Jesus for spending time with Zacchaeus, but Christ did not respond to the criticism directly. Instead He told Zacchaeus, "This day salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
What can we learn from this story about Zacchaeus? 

I think we can all relate  to him if we are really honest with ourselves. We feel small, insignificant, and overlooked. For many, that feeling began in childhood. Perhaps when Mom was busy, when she got on the phone, or when she was in a conversation and wasn't connecting to us, we clamored for her attention by interrupting, doing things we weren't supposed to do, starting fights with siblings, or anything else we could do to get her attention back on us.  
I came across a Michael Card song a few years ago called Underneath the Door. In the song he describes himself as little guy with stubbly little fingers who wanted so badly to get his Dad's attention. But his dad often closed himself off, hiding behind his office door. He would draw his dad pictures and push them under the door. Sometimes he simply would stick his fingers beneath the door as if to say, "This is me, its who I am."  He shared his story with someone and they pointed out to him that as an adult he was still that little boy wanting to be seen.*
We, too, often feel small and overlooked. We may smile at what we did as children to get attention, but we really are just grown up children doing similar more acceptable things. We may not be tax collectors, but I bet we have all sorts of other ways of dealing with those feelings of insignificance, insecurity, and inferiority. I bet we even have ways we deal with feeling unseen, ignored, unheard, overlooked, and any other feeling we felt when we were small. Some of us became hyper critical, shouting the faults of others. Some of us turn those feelings inward, beating ourselves up emotionally and sometimes physically. Some of us became perfectionists, never stopping to rest or to enjoy life, people, or His presence. Some of us  pursued wealth, fame, or popularity to find it is never enough to make us feel seen and heard. Some of became so independent that we denied the need of being seen, heard, or loved even though those are legitimate needs written carefully on our hearts by the Creator Himself. Some of us may have even stepped on others as we tried to climb to the top, only to find that we feel even smaller still.    
We can learn that God is a God who seeks the smallest. We don't have to climb trees, corporate ladders, become the favorite child, perform perfectly, or scale the tallest mountain. Christ sees us where we are, even in our sin, even while we were still enemies with Him. He even sees us even when others crowd us and over look us and despise us. 
Just as Jesus knew the wee little man by name, He knows us by name! He was the one who  ascribed significance to us because He chose to create us, to call us from the womb by name, to love us, to die for us, to reveal Himself to us, and to call us down from our self made trees we believe will give us the advantage. His great love looks past the visible sins as well as the ones we keep hidden. When He calls our name and invites us to know Him, we can either reject Him or we can embrace Him and His payment for sin. If we choose to embrace Him, He comes home to our hearts, radically changing our lives.  It is when we feel the most lost, the most unseen, the most unheard, and the most unredeemable, that Jesus calls our name. Those feelings were given to us to let us know we have needs--the need to be seen, the need to be known, and the need to be loved. Those needs and every other need we have were designed to drive us to Him who can meet them. 
Our significance is found in Christ and in the gifting He gives us to serve others. We want to be sure our own biases don't get in the way of our seeking and offering the love of Christ to sinners in need of a loving, life changing God who sees and knows names. The "tax collectors"--those we might view as enemies, those we might avoid seeing because we are angry, those we might overlook because their sin makes us uncomfortable, those we think beneath us are the very ones Christ may use us to be His voice calling another's name. As His skin representatives He desires for us to reach out to the lost, to fellowship with the invisible, and to disciple baby believers, looking past their pasts, envisioning what they can become in the hands of a holy, powerful God. We don't want to lose those trying to catch a glimpse of God because they remain invisible and unheard by us. We don't want to lose people because we have never given them the opportunity to live down a past because we prejudged them. In the light of the bigness of our God aren't we all  Zacchaeus's?
I praise God for the change in Zacchaeus. and I can't help but think Zacchaeus, the wee little man, walked a bit taller the day Jesus invited Himself to dinner. When those old feelings return and lies from my past cause me to shrink in shame, I can cling to that the truth that the Jesus who knew Zacchaeus' name also knows mine. Just like He sought Zacchaeus out, He is continually seeking me. Because He knows me, and has called me by name, I can square my shoulders, lift my head, and walk out the truth that I, too, have been changed from one who was seeking to see and to one who is seen to  and whose heart is full enough to give.  

Underneath the Door performed by Michael Card in the album Scribbling in the Sand: The Best of Michael Card


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!