Archives

How Concerned is God with Freedom in America?

This week, tens of thousands of people stood in long lines to support a company which had been under fire for words said and dollars spent.  Although there were various motivations within those enormous crowds, it seems as though the vast majority were there in support of free speech.  The specific topic of the speech in this situation was homosexual marriage, but people from both sides of the coin on that topic ate their chicken sandwiches as a support for an American’s right to free speech.  I can assure you that I ate delicious, flaky, buttery biscuits three times within a week as my own support of Cathy’s right to free speech.  My kids and I ate there so many times, my three-year-old son stated this morning, “I’m ready for my morning biscuit.”

However, a new thought has been whirling around in my head.  What if God isn’t really concerned about freedom of speech in America?  From what I can tell, His ultimate goal is for EVERY PERSON to know Him and understand his immense love for them (“for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”).  So it seems like as His followers, we Christians should live our lives with that ultimate goal at the forefront.  Jesus’ Great Commission to us is, “Go and make disciples of all nations…”  All along as I’ve thought through the CFA situation, I’ve tried to think about how it fits within that goal.  I’m now wondering, is the continuation of free speech in America within God’s over-arching plan of reaching all people with His love?

We Christians in America have had it pretty easy for a long time.  I personally love my comfortable life.  Right now, I’m sitting in a cozy glider rocker with my feet propped on the matching glider ottoman in my spacious living room typing about God on my computer (which I plan to post on the internet, where potentially anyone in the world can read it), while my children each sleep peacefully in their own large bedrooms and my husband plays a video game on a different computer in a different room.  All of this is in a well-lit, air-conditioned home.  If I decide I’m hungry, I have probably a hundred choices of snacks – junk food, veggies straight from the local farm, cereals, frozen foods…  I have it good, and I am incredibly grateful for every detail of it.

A lot of Christian organizations fight hard for keeping our freedoms in America.  There’s a big emphasis on keeping Christian values front and center in our nation.  All of that is great for keeping our comfortable lives in America, but is it helping with God’s ultimate goal?  What has been the result of American Christians having so many rights and such comfortable lives?  A fair amount of spiritual laziness, to be honest.  Especially across the Bible Belt, there is a culture of Christianity that is not any indication whatsoever of a person’s actual relationship with God.  There are plenty of people who have been going to church every Sunday their whole lives, but only because that’s just what you do.

We want to keep our nation “Christian” and comfortable.  But what if that’s not what is important to God?  When we’re comfortable, we’re less likely to actually rely on God.  Christianity becomes more of a feel-good “cause” or culture, rather than a fully dependent relationship with God.

Is it important to God that we continue to have free speech in this nation?  If we didn’t, our reliance on God would be significantly greater.  To be a follower of Christ, you would have to really take it seriously.

How would Jesus have handled this CFA-focused controversy?  What response would fit best with God’s ultimate goal?   In the Bible, we see a lot of times when Jesus got frustrated, even angry, when those who had studied the scriptures were doing things contrary to His ultimate goal.  On the other hand, he lovingly socialized with sinful non-believers.  He had completely different expectations for the two groups.  I’m trying to remember, but I can’t even think of a time that he called out a non-believer’s sin in anything other than a gentle conversation, and even then, it was only after he had connected with the person and begun building a relationship.  Then, after receiving that loving attention from Jesus, the person wanted to change his or her behavior.

A non-believer is going to live a sinful life.  We shouldn’t be surprised by that.  And we shouldn’t expect anything else.  It’s only after discovering the power of God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice that any of us have motivation to “live rightly.”  Paul described this so well in his letter to the Romans:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

What would Jesus have done on Wednesday?  As I think about it now, it doesn’t seem like one nation’s free speech would have mattered that much to him.  It seems more likely that he would have been off in a bar or on the streets or somewhere building a loving relationship with a sin-filled person who did not yet know the power of His love.

**************************

“The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”  Micah 6:8

Light the tree, unplug the computer

My family (as in my parents and siblings) are doing something new for the first time this year:  we’re leaving computers stashed in bedrooms during our family Christmas gathering.  This is incredibly strange for us, and I’m not really sure how it’s going to work – or what we’ll do without computers to stare at!  This has always been the norm with us…

(Picture a roomful of people sitting on couches, each staring at the silver or white laptop balanced on his/her lap.  I can’t find the actual photograph.)

Even more important, though, is that I am able to completely focus on my husband and kiddos over the next week.  When the kids want me to build a train track with them, I want to say, “Yes!” instead of “Yes, later today I would love to do that with you.”  When they’re ready to play chase, I want to immediately start running without having to clear my lap first.  When they want me to fully be engaged acting as this character or that character…okay, that will still get just as old, just as fast.

So, my friends who for some reason read this blog, I’ll see you after New Year’s!

Merry Christmas!

“This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. “

(1 John 4:9-10 The Message)

Jesus in the Manger

The Montessori philosophy on art is to allow children to do open-ended artwork where their creativity flourishes.  That can involve pretty much any art project that doesn’t have a specific end product in mind, including painting, drawing, coloring, making collages, working with clay, stamping, etc.  Craft projects where every child is supposed to end up with the same result is too focused on the end product instead of the process.

That being said, Drama Queen created a very cute baby Jesus craft at church yesterday.  It looks very easy to make, so I thought I’d share it with you in case you would like to give your children the opportunity to make it.

You start by cutting a square.  This one is 5 1/2″ x 5 1/2″.  This has the look of wood grains; you could find a similar thing on-line to print out, draw your own, or just hand it to your child as a white square.  Give the child the opportunity to color the square.  I hear that purple is a perfect color for a manger.  😉

Fold the square in half and make a cut 1 1/4″ from the fold, about 3/4″ inches from each side.

Cut two other pieces of paper, each 2 3/4″ x 1 1/2″.  Allow your child to color these.  Insert these into the cuts.  These are the stands for your manger.

Set a tissue down into the manger.

Cut out a picture of baby Jesus (maybe like this one).  Allow your child to color him, then set him in the manger.  Another option would be to use a toy baby to fit in the manger as baby Jesus.

Within just a few minutes, your child has a sweet, homemade 3-D manger scene to play with.

Living and Active

As a child, I grew up in a church-y home, but not necessarily a personal faith kind of home.  As I’ve grown and matured over the years, it’s become clear to me that there’s an enormous difference between being religious and actually being an “apprentice of Jesus” (as labeled by Dallas Willard inThe Divine Conspiracy).  My desire is for my children to learn from the beginning how important knowing God’s Word and spending time with Him in prayer are.

When Drama Queen was just a little bitty crawling thing, we would start each day by reading a chapter or two or three from the Bible.  I was doing a read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, so I would just read that day’s plan.  Of course, I had no expectation of this sweet girl sitting still and listening, but I wanted to set that foundation of starting the day with God – both for her and for me.  She would crawl all over the room and me as I read – with periodic tickle and zerbert breaks.

(20 months old, looking through a Bible at a doctor’s office)

Once Mr. BANG was born, I didn’t know quite how to continue that routine – so I didn’t.  For over a year, we didn’t have any routine Bible reading.  Of course, we read plenty of Bible story books.  Also, Drama Queen was obsessed with a few different Bible story stories (David and Goliath, Paul’s conversion, and the first 6 chapters of Daniel were the main ones), so to be able to act them out multiple times a day as she wanted, we also read them from the Bible multiple times a day.  That was actually very cool, because I learned the details of those stories so much better.

Last fall, though, with the help of Charlotte Mason ideas and my friend Corrie who introduced me to the idea of doing catechism (I thought it was “just a Catholic thing”), we began starting our days with a Bible study time.  The kids and I immediately loved it!  I remember one day early on when the kids were playing in the dirt in the backyard (their favorite activity).  I told them that in one minute, it would be time to come to the front porch for Bible study.  Drama Queen immediately dropped her digging tools and ran to the porch yelling, “Yay!  Bible study!!  I LOVE Bible study!!”  THAT’S what a mom wants to hear!  🙂

We have 5 aspects to our Bible study:  catechism, memory verse, Scripture reading, hymn, and prayer.

For catechism and memory verse, I made two separate binders.  I introduce one new catechism question and one new Bible passage a week.  (For longer passages, I just do a section each week until we’ve learned the whole passage.)  The catechism I use is written for children and is very simply worded.  It covers the basics of the Christian faith in a very clear manner.  I love that pretty much every time Drama Queen has a question about what it means, the next week’s question explains that detail.  Here are some examples of the questions and answers:

  • Who made you?  God made me.
  • What else did God make?  God made all things.
  • Are there more gods than one?  There is only one God.
  • In how many persons does this one God exist?  In three persons.
  • Who are they?  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • Who is God?  God is a Spirit and does not have a body like men.
  • Can you see God?  No.  I cannot see God, but He always sees me.
  • Who wrote the Bible?  Holy men who were taught by the Holy Spirit.
  • What is your soul?  My soul includes all of me that should know and love God.
  • What is sin?  Sin is any transgression of the law of God.

(She said this illustration is a banana tree with bruised bananas.)

For Bible verses, I typically go by a specific list of verses I found on a Charlotte Mason website.  However, I do vary from that some.  Last December, we focused on learning the original Christmas story from Luke 2:1-18.  There have also been times that the children were learning a particular verse at church, so we focused on that same verse at home.  In the binders, I leave space on the pages for the children to illustrate it.  So far, Drama Queen has always been the illustrator, but now that Mr. BANG’s artwork is moving beyond complete scribbles, it’s probably time to give him that opportunity as well.

(This is Adam and Eve.)

For Bible reading, again I follow a plan I found through a Charlotte Mason site.  I like this plan because it provides short passages through the whole Bible and kind of makes each one it’s own little story.  For instance, in the “Moses vs. Pharaoh” section of Exodus, each plague is it’s own story.  In the New Testament, each parable of Jesus is its own story.  The passages are never overwhelmingly long, but they do give the children the opportunity to hear the whole Bible over a period of time.  We read an OT and NT passage each day.

Now, again, my children are only 2 and 4 years old.  I have absolutely no expectations of them sitting and quietly listening and participating during all this!  We sit in the reading corner of the playroom/school room (or the front porch swing, or on a blanket in the back yard), and sometimes they do just want to sit and cuddle against me.  However, they usually are climbing across the pillows behind me, or fixing my hair, or doing flips over my legs.  That is perfectly fine!  I don’t require them to give the answers of the catechism questions or say the Bible verses, but they frequently do on their own as they’re climbing, flipping, and sometimes diving.  My rules for them in that part of Bible study are that they stay in our reading corner, not play with toys (unless it’s something small for them to have in their hands), and not talk or make loud sound effects unless they’re joining in with the study.

(I have made video of them reciting the catechism and memory verses, and I would love to post that here, but unfortunately I don’t have a clue how!)

The next part is probably their favorite: hymns.  For that, they get to choose an instrument from the music shelf and dance around the room while I sing.  (They always bring me an instrument to play too, and, yes, I sometimes do dance around with them!)  I introduce a new hymn each month, and normally toward the end of the month, Drama Queen is joyfully singing along with me.  Usually, once we finish that hymn, they ask for more hymns, so we sing one of the hymns we’ve learned previously.  Drama Queen gets excited at church on Sundays when we sing hymns from our morning Bible studies.

For prayer, we gather back over at the reading area.  We use this time for intercessory prayer.  I ask them who they would like to pray for that’s not in the room with us.  The most common response is “Daddy,” but at times they also mention a friend or an extended family member.  I always ask if either of them wants to say the words, but 90% of the time, they want me to do it.

This Bible study time is such a precious time with the kids.  I love getting to start our day this way, and pray that it creates a foundation for Drama Queen and Mr. BANG of always making that daily focused time with God a priority in their lives.

Guest Post: The Why

Since this blog is not even a month old yet, I have not ventured into the “guest blogger” territory.  But I recently read something that I think needs to spread around the internet so that as many people as possible can be inspired, encouraged, and challenged by it.

I’ll never forgot the day, just over three years ago, when I was excitedly awaiting THE phone call, with the thrilled voice on the other end telling me all about my friend Pascha’s new baby.  I was looking forward to the details – how long or short the delivery had been, what the baby looked like, what his hair was like, was he enormous like one of his older siblings had been at birth, etc.

When the call came, the voice wasn’t right.  My friend Ivy told me in a scared, confused way that she thought little baby Owen had died.  I was stunned.  That couldn’t be right.  No way.  That doesn’t happen in our modern society!  It can’t!!  And yet, it did.

This is Pascha’s reflection on that day, and what God has taught her in the three years since:

Can the Story Be Complete Without the Why?

by Pascha Deam

                In the journalism world, there’s a rule that in order to capture the full story, a writer must answer the five “Ws” of journalism– who, what, when, where and why.  I’m all about writing rules, but I have to disagree with this one. Sometimes we just don’t need to know the “why.”

This summer, I was contacted three times by people wondering how to best support friends who lost full-term babies. That’s three broken-hearted mommies. Three lifeless babies. Three big question marks.  Those question marks hover over the shock and the grief of the situation, prompting thoughts like “why us?” or “why them?” or “why this baby, and not one who was just going to be aborted or abused?”

My “why” time happened three years ago when Owen died, and of course, there’s still a big question mark. Yet I don’t feel left hanging, because there is a “W” so significant that, when answered and understood, the “why” becomes unimportant.

That “W” is the “who” of the story. Not the “who did this happen to?” but the “who is in control? Who could have stopped this and didn’t?”

That would be God.

And here is what I know about God. I know that He chose me and considers me His child, He takes great delight in me, He views me as precious and honored, and He longs to be gracious to me. God draws me with loving-kindness, loves me with an everlasting love, casts my sins behind His back and remembers them no more, and rises to show me compassion. I know He does not reject me but summons me by name, goes before me to level the mountains, and gives me a hope and a future. I know He searches me and knows me to the point of being aware of my sitting, my rising, my thoughts, and my words before I speak them. He hears my cries, keeps a record of my tears, encourages and comforts me, upholds me, renews my strength, refreshes and satisfies me, quiets me with His love, and puts a new song in my mouth.*

So, if He loves me this much and is this good, why did He let my son die? (ooh, there’s that pesky “W” again). As author and Bible teacher Beth Moore puts it “good does not always equal easy.” Take, for instance, a good thing we did for our one-year-old this summer: we had tubes placed in his ears after he was repeatedly diagnosed with painful ear infections. It was a quick, low-risk procedure, but it was scary and confusing for him. He was taken somewhere unfamiliar, was operated on, and woke up with strangers. I could hear his screams from the waiting room the moment the anesthetic wore off. He was frustrated with the process but Rob and I, as the wiser party, knew that his moments of discomfort in the hospital would result in great benefit to him. And they have. It was not an easy thing for Levi, but it was a good thing for Levi.

I like what philosopher Peter Kreeft points out about suffering: “At the time of Jesus’ death, nobody saw how anything good could ever result from this tragedy. And yet God foresaw that the result would be the opening of heaven to human beings. So the worst tragedy in history brought about the most glorious event in history … Similarly, as we face struggles and trials and suffering, we sometimes can’t imagine good emerging. But we’ve seen how it did in the case of Jesus and we can trust it will in our case, too.”

We can trust it not just because this was Jesus’ experience, but because God promises this in His word. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Eph. 1:11 tells us that the Father “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.” Scripture tells us that we will experience trials and encourages us to endure them and stand firm in our faith during them. In James 1, we’re even told to consider it “pure joy” when we face a hardship. Sounds insane, no? But the passage goes on to explain the reason we can view these difficult times as a positive thing: “because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” Other translations of the Bible use these words: “You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors” (The Message) and “for you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (NLT).

Here, then, is a glimpse of the “why” of suffering. It’s not specific to our individual situation, whether it be the loss of a baby, a rough patch in an important relationship, financial stress, or whatever it is we’re going through. But the general idea is that suffering has the potential to increase our faith and help us become more like Jesus. As my pastor says “trials can make you bitter or better.” Writer Elizabeth George believes crises in our lives should be seen as “another opportunity to trust the Lord.” In “How to Listen to God,” Charles Stanley writes “When great disappointment comes, [some people] wring their hands and become angry and bitter toward God. They fail to realize that God saved them from ruining their lives. The wise response when disappointment comes is always to ask God what He is trying to teach us and then respond to our disappointments with new insight into God’s plans and purposes.”

The thing with “great disappointments” is that they feel so crummy, and it can be hard to get past that. How often do we allow our emotions to become a greater reality than the word of God when we’re enduring something unpleasant? When we feel like God’s being cruel and unfair, we decide He is cruel and unfair, even though the Bible states the opposite (God does not treat us as our sins deserve, His compassions never fail, He doesn’t take pleasure in evil, His love surpasses knowledge, etc). So, what do we do about this emotions thing? When Owen died, the greatest piece of advice I received was from Elaine Slagh, the pastor’s wife who came to see us at the hospital that night (who’d had a similar experience a few decades prior). She told me “this is where it will be easy to go down the road of depression and anger, so you are going to have to really take your thoughts captive.” I clung to her advice. I did not let my mind dwell on the “why?” (although I did ask God – I just didn’t become obsessed with it) or wander along the path of “how could You do this to me?” or wallow in self-pity. I tried to do as Job, the poster child of suffering, did (described by Elizabeth George): “Job never asked why when he was suffering . He worshipped instead. Notice very carefully what carried Job through his ordeal. Unlike the stance of the stoic (grin and bear it – or at list grit your teeth and endure it) Job grabbed on to facts about God. Facts like – God is too kind to do anything cruel, too wise to make a mistake, too deep to explain Himself. Believing these facts about God should erase all whys.”

Now, let me be clear. I am not a proponent of stuffing or denying emotions. I just think we should experience our emotions WITH God rather than allowing them to distance us from Him. About two months after Owen died, my friend Jenny Meadows delivered a baby boy. She had an induction scheduled ahead of time, so I knew she was going to give birth and I spent the whole day anticipating news of the baby’s arrival. I was excited for her and anxiously waiting for word on how everything went. Finally that evening I received a message from her husband. I was genuinely very happy and relieved to hear that all had gone well. After I read the email, I went down to our basement to run on the treadmill and as I was about to turn it on, I was slugged with an overwhelming sense of despair. I suddenly was in a state of brokenness that almost equaled the way I felt when Owen died. Jenny was experiencing all those wonderful newborn things. That same day was my best friend Ivy Lasley’s daughter’s birthday. These two women were celebrating life and I – well, I had received Owen’s death certificate in the mail that day (talk about salt on the wound). It all added up to too much for me to handle. In that dim basement, I cried out to God “I do not want this to be my life! I do not want to be the one whose son died!”  And I poured my brokenness at His feet until we had worked it out together and peace returned (peace being, in the words of Beth Moore, “the absence of fear and turmoil, not the absence of pain and grief”).

By the way, I have often drawn comfort from the knowledge that Jesus himself wasn’t just happy-go-lucky about all the events of his life. In Matthew 26, after Jesus confided in his disciples that “my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he tells God “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” Jesus was about to be arrested and, soon after, crucified and at that moment, he was thinking “I do not want this to be my life!”

Fighting to keep our faith during suffering is largely a battle of the mind. It’s “taking thoughts captive” and keeping things in perspective. In my case, I may feel like I’ve lost my son forever and missed out on getting to know him, but the fact is, he’s just in a different place than I am right now and one day we’ll be reunited. I may feel that there could have been a better, less harsh way to bring about whatever “good” Owen’s death resulted in, but the fact is, God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom (1 Cor. 1:25). He knows what He’s doing. (“What if Owen would have chosen to reject God and ended up in hell?” my friend Jenny once gently mused. Well there’s a thought. I would much prefer to live with him forever on the New Earth than to spend a few dozen years with him on this Earth).

I really struggled with my feelings when I miscarried six months after Owen’s death. I was hurt that God had let me, for a second time, lose something I wanted so badly. I felt like He didn’t care about my desires or hear my prayers. I felt betrayed. I knew these emotions were contrary to what God says about His relationship with me. I knew I was mentally distorting the “Who.” I worked to fix this by making note cards for every negative thing I was feeling and filling them with Bible verses that applied to those feelings. I reviewed these truths until they became reality to me again (actually, I still occasionally use these note cards when I recognize one of those feelings cropping back up). This is what I’ve been taught – whatever bad thing you are going through, figure out what God says about it in the Scriptures, put effort into adjusting your thoughts or behavior to line up with His,  and believe that “He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).

Psalm 16:5-6 says “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” I love Beth Moore’s commentary of this passage: “The word ‘portion’ has strong ties to the concept of destiny. One author explains, ‘Here the ‘lot’ or ‘portion’ is an allusion to the way life has worked out; the psalmist is thinking of all the signs of God’s providence which have marked his pilgrimage.’ In our own words, we might say something like, ‘Lord, in all the chaos and crisis, all the threat and doubt, you caused my life to work out. Instead of me falling apart, the lines of my life have fallen together. Truly I can say that you have given me a delightful inheritance.’ No matter what life – or satan himself – hands us, the favor God has on His children causes that ‘lot’ to tumble out on the table in such a way that, instead of destruction, the child will discover that her portion turned into destiny one trusting step at a time. When all is said and done, she will see that the portion God assigned her was good. Right. Rich. Full of purpose.”

In the story of my life, I don’t have an answer for the difficult “whys.” But I know the “who”– it is a God who makes my lot secure. He is worthy of my trust. In this I am satisfied.

Pascha, Ivy, and me stuffing our faces with Candy Cake way back in our college days.