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Blessings that Feel Like Curses

Published November 27, 2017 by Dawn

“Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”

It was one of the most pivotal moments in Mary’s life. How many dreams did she have about her future? She was betrothed already, and would soon be married to a highly esteemed man. She had a flawless reputation. Her character was such that she was not just a child of God, she was a favorite. While she dreamed of the white picket fence and a yard full of kids, all two years apart, her Father had big plans for her.

I wonder what kind of disposition Mary had when remembering this moment as God’s plans unfolded in her life. From that moment on, nothing looked quite like she thought it would. She was pregnant with no alibi. The man she was engaged to wanted to leave her. While the Bible does say Gabriel explained everything to Joseph so he wouldn’t leave, it doesn’t say anything about a town hall meeting so everyone else knew that Mary was still pure and virtuous. Her reputation took a fall. No wonder she immediately left town to go to Elizabeth’s!

I’ve been thinking about this for days now. Mary’s “blessing” probably felt like a curse sometimes. First the pregnancy, then the long journey on a donkey in her last trimester. Giving birth in a stable. Fleeing to Egypt not long after becoming a new mom. Raising a son whose thoughts were often otherworldly and strange. When Jesus was twelve, he told his mom he stayed behind in Jerusalem so he could “be about my Father’s business.” He wasn’t talking about Joseph.

Gabriel had warned Mary about Jesus’ mission. That he would be despised, rejected and crucified. I wonder how often she thought about that, and how gracious she was when her emotions overwhelmed her. Gabriel had told her a sword would pierce her own heart too. God’s favor and blessings in Mary’s life felt like pain and agony from the start. I imagine she lost perspective sometimes. I wonder if she ever knelt in prayer and poured out bitterness instead of praise.

More than anything, I wonder if perhaps we have gotten it all wrong. Have we decided that blessings in our lives are curses and vice versa? When trouble comes because of things we know are the will of God, how often do we lose perspective and struggle to hold on to promises? Likewise, how often do we look at the things of this world that distract us and keep us complacent and decide in our hearts that they must be blessings simply because of how they make us feel? We get comfortable and love it that way, but what would God be doing in our lives if allowed to have His way? Would it be any less His will just because it causes us turmoil?

As I thought about Mary, I realized that God didn’t call her blessed because He had a life of ease planned out for her. I think He called her blessed because He had chosen her to bring glory to Him. In spite of all the pain, God trusted Mary to raise Jesus. She was His faithful servant and God was pleased with her. His gift just didn’t always feel like a blessing. I wonder, though, if her response was always just as kind and gracious as it was that first day when Gabriel broke the news to her. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

I’m not always that gracious. Actually, I’m not sure I’m ever that gracious. I want to be, and it’s been my prayer for a while, but when God allows things that hurt – things that break me – I don’t respond like Mary. I weigh the things God allows against the pain they cause and decide from there whether they are a blessing or a curse. But I think I’m doing it all wrong. The Bible makes it clear that oftentimes, walking in the will of God hurts something fierce. The pain doesn’t make it any less the will of God, or any less a blessing. The blessing, after all, isn’t in how much we benefit. The blessing is solely about the glory of God being revealed through our lives. It exists in the way our trials make us less worldly and more like Christ. If being broken was the will of God for Mary, and the will of God for Jesus, how can we expect it to be any less His will for us?

I believe we can take comfort in the fact that in all of the brokenness and despair, every person that endured the will of God in the Bible and was obedient, brought glory to God. Their stories have stood the test of time and remain to remind us that God’s will is ultimately for our good, even when it doesn’t feel good. May God continue to bless us, and give us strength to bear it.

 

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Godly Parenting

Published November 13, 2017 by Dawn

My fifteen-year-old daughter is a parent’s dream. Yes, I’m bragging. I’m super proud of her in so many ways, not the least of which is the fact that she is a naturally responsible, obedient young woman. But this week, it happened. She finally found herself up against a rule I set for her many years ago. She is not allowed to date until she is sixteen.

Here’s the short of it: She’s fifteen and has a few crushes. She’s really nervous because she’s afraid that this one guy might ask her out before she’s sixteen and when she tells him she can’t date yet, he’ll move on! In utter turmoil, she came to me and asked me to modify the rules so she doesn’t miss this opportunity, should it arise. She was kind of frantic about it, insisting that I explain to her once again why we even have this rule, in hopes that she might be able to poke holes in my logic (she was born to be a lawyer).

I went through it all:

  • Dating is something you do to find someone to marry. Are you ready for marriage?
  • Do you know if he’s a Christian? Why waste time on something that God will not purpose in your life?
  • In the heat of emotion, it’s easy to make decisions based on feelings instead of obedience to God and even more so for people just starting out in their walk with the Lord.
  • Any good relationship is built on a friendship and you can’t even talk to him like a normal person!

These are just a few of the many things we discussed and even though she argued like a pro, there was no poking holes because I, too, was born to argue.

I got the cold shoulder for two days.

I went to my room early the second night to pray and seek God’s wisdom in the matter, because I felt very strongly that this was a good boundary for my kids, and as such, was not budging in it. In my prayer time, the Lord reminded me that the parent’s role in a child’s life is to mirror the relationship of God’s role in all of our lives. Parents love their children unconditionally, care for them, protect them, guide them, discipline them and all of this prepares kids for that day when they become accountable to God alone.

At some point in a person’s younger years, he or she realizes that rules can either be followed or broken. Before that pivotal moment, if his or her authority figure spoke, it was gospel and followed no matter what. Then, an awakening happens. The natural, rebellious self awakens to the temptation of self-will, and that kiddo will struggle against the obedience that is good in favor of whatever their young heart truly desires. So, in my daughter’s case, as in every person’s case at some point, it was bound to happen. Temptation entered the picture in the form of self-will, clouded with emotion and child-like (shortsighted) reasoning.

The Lord also reminded me of the two aspects of God’s will – the permissive will and the perfect will. God understands rebellion. It’s been breaking his heart for thousands of years. Thankfully, though, he knows how we were formed and remembers that we are just dust (Ps. 103:14). His perfect will is the life he envisioned for us when he lovingly crafted us in the secret place. All the wonderful gifts he planned for our enjoyment, the path he desired us to walk in life. The Eden we ruin with our self-will, more often than not. In that moment, we enter into the permissive will of God, in which he permits us to wallow in the mud we so desire, then works all things in conformity to his will. We make choices despite his wishes and our lives are marred and broken thereafter, but God lovingly picks up all the pieces and makes a new masterpiece, if we will let him.

One thing God never does, though, is move the boundary stones to appease our soulful desires. He has set standards before us and guides us through them if we let him, but when we disobey him, it is with an understanding that we have chosen something lesser to gratify our human nature and exchanged his perfect will for his permissive will. Beg as we might, God has already chosen what is good in his sight and he knows that, while we might not see it for the good that it is right now, if we persist in obedience to him, we will one day understand why he set those boundaries.

I explained all of this to her, knowing that in her heart, she has accepted God as her father. I explained that obedience and disobedience are acts of our will, but that God doesn’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, but provides a way out from under it so that we won’t fall (1 Cor. 10:13). That if we truly want his perfect will, there’s a cost we will pay and that cost includes instant gratification, ridicule, and losing opportunities that look good to us. But, I also reminded her, that “eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, the things God has prepared for those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (1 Cor. 2:9). Her father has crafted something precious, a treasure for her, that if she walks in obedience to him, she will experience in this life.

These two things, I firmly believe:

  1. We teach our kids how to obey God by teaching them how to obey us. When we move boundaries in response to their duress over them, we teach our children that they can haggle with God. But God doesn’t work like that. He doesn’t lower standards just because we find them impossible to accept or live with. He strengthens us in our weakness, but he doesn’t change in response to our angst.
  2. Our children will obey God the same way they obey us. Just as our relationship with them is an example of God’s love and devotion to them, their relationship with us is a reflection of their relationship with God. How they obey us is how they will obey him.

It is important for parents to make standards for their children, express them and be unmoving in their authority. It’s very counter-culture but that is what we Christians were called to be anyway. “Come out from among them and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:17). Our homes should not be governed according to the latest Psychology trend, they should be governed by the Word of God. Our kids should know our standards and we, as parents, should be aware that at any given moment, our kids’ self-wills might dictate their decisions. But we don’t have to move boundary stones to appease them, because when we do, we subjugate our authority and our kids suddenly feel they are the rulers of the household. I work in a high school and I hear students laughing at their parents all the time because they have caved to tyranny.

Let your kids know that when they act in disobedience, they do so in defiance. Don’t change the rules just so they play nice. Remember the saying, “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”? Your kids will not respect you for caving to their demands. They’ll just be more persistent in future demands.

I took my daughter to the Bible and read her two scriptures in Proverbs. Chapter 22, verse 28, says, “Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors.” Why is this wisdom for parental discipline? Because we make rules based on our understanding of their age, the trouble they might get into, the trouble we got into and our knowledge of their childish tendencies. We also base our rules on the presumed actions and reactions of others. We use wisdom they don’t have yet because people do not become fully rational, reasoning human beings until they are 25, according to modern scientific research. I also read her Proverbs 23:10, which says, “Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless.”  I pointed out that sometimes, our disobedience to the will of God has consequences that encroach on the field of those around us. Consequences are far-reaching, like the ripples after a stone is thrown into a lake. You can’t stop the ripples. They die out on their own and you can never tell how far they might travel across the surface. If we walk in obedience to God, we are comforted knowing that he is working on something so complex that involves everyone around us, without hurting anyone. The pain comes because we disobey and hurt ourselves, and sometimes, people we dearly love.

In concluding, I would like to add one thought: if we are going to discipline our children in such a way as to prepare them for God’s boundaries and discipline, we must also show them love like God does. We must continuously forgive – graciously, and not with gritted teeth. We must discuss our actions and reactions with them – the why – so they will not be disheartened when obedience is a sacrifice. We must pray with and for them. Our kids have to feel secure enough in our love and affection for them, to fail our expectations and still be willing to climb up into our laps for comfort. This is perhaps one of the greatest aspects of God’s love and forbearance and as parents, we must guide them into that confidence. The hand that hurts is also the hand that heals, in our walks with the Lord. Let it also be true in our relationships with our kiddos.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).

 

 

Honoring God Through Unhappy Halloweens

Published November 1, 2017 by Dawn

For all the years growing up that I can remember, we didn’t celebrate Halloween. Somewhere in the Bible, something convinced my parents it was not honoring to God, so we never dressed up, never went trick-or-treating and never fit in on October 31st. Probably, there are a ton of Christian parents today who can relate to this. They have a similar story. Or, they did get to dress up, but were firmly convinced by mom and dad that “there is a good Halloween and bad Halloween … we are celebrating the good one.” They got to go knock on doors, smile cheesy and go to bed high on sugar.

Three weeks after becoming a mother, I dressed my daughter in the cutest bear costume and trudged through snow to the neighbor’s door for a kit-kat just so we could say she had a “first Halloween.” For several years afterward, we celebrated just like everyone else and my kids, for sure, were the cutest kids on the block. Then it happened: I began to study various literatures about the pagan ties to the holiday, the occult’s worship of this holiday in particular, and all the while 1 Thessalonians 5:22 resounded, “Abstain from all appearances of evil.”

You might have just rolled your eyes, but bear with me. I’ve read most everything that’s been written about Halloween. I’ve read the mommy blogs, where a well-meaning and genuine mother gives a heart-felt dissertation on why Halloween can be a fun outreach for the family, a moment to “be the light” in the darkness. I’ve read the Satanist’s giddy, mocking quip: “I’m so happy Christians let their children worship Satan one day a year.” I’ve read them both and I was ready to let this day go by without saying a word. As for me and my house, we call in Chinese and Netflix with the porch-light off. No big deal.

This year, I wanted to test the theory: Christians can use this holiday to reach the masses of unchurched people and people will come to Christ through our efforts.

Now, because handing out tracks is unscientific, in that I cannot accurately measure the amount of people who come to Christ through my efforts, I chose not to go that route. Likewise, how can I measure one’s acceptance of Christ by merely smiling and passing out candy? If we don’t talk about Jesus while they are with me, how will I ever know if my efforts to “share Christ” in such a way actually brought them to the foot of the cross? Lacking any other avenue of measurable means, I put a sign up on my front gate with the facts: No candy, but we have Jesus! Want Jesus? Knock! The door will be opened.

Yes, I did this. In the town my kids go to school in.

No one knocked.

No one chose to come to Christ when it was all I offered.

If I would have had a huge bowl of candy, I would have entertained the masses of strangers all over town but would any of them come to know Jesus … genuinely know Jesus, through my “evangelism outreach”? Would they dig any deeper than the bottom of their pillow case after a long walk home, to get to know my King? And all the while, I might have been showing my kids the opposite of what I preach:

  • That we don’t have to come out from among them and be separate.
  • That fear can be fun and exhilarating as long as they know that mommy is near.
  • That Satan is just a Halloween ghoul and witches are just people with green make-up on; the occult is nothing but a sham and Halloween fun.
  • That there is a good side to evil and everyone can partake because Jesus would never want us to feel left out.

Maybe this is just me rambling, but let me do so for a sec. The scripture clearly tells us that no one can even come to God unless the Spirit of God compels them to (John 6:44). Do I believe that all of these efforts to reach people are fruitless? No, not exactly. I believe God reaches people through any means necessary, and He works all things in conformity to His will. He can use even our sins and foolishness to draw people to Him because His purpose is unwavering even if we do things we shouldn’t. But are we honoring Him?

Does this matter to you like it matters to me? My heart broke the first time I had to explain to my kids that we would no longer be celebrating Halloween. No more huge buckets of candy, no parties, no costumes. This holiday fell off our calendar, so to speak. Yes, they have endured the pain of not partaking in something that brings a lot of joy to a ton of other kiddos. But isn’t this the reality of Christianity and sin in general? Don’t we want our kids to abstain from the things that dishonor God, even if the whole world is doing them? Then why do we make exceptions for this one holiday? Satan mocks God every year because of the millions of Christians who have chosen to justify their involvement in a holiday that glorifies darkness.

“I just want to honor God to the best of my ability,” I told them, through tears.

Here’s the truth, church: people will come to Christ as God compels them. That’s scriptural. God can use any means necessary, but He doesn’t need us in any way to do so. Be His hands and feet, but you don’t have to be so desperate to reach people that you worship at pagan altars next to the lost. Jesus didn’t do that. Did he eat with “sinners?” Sure. Did he engage in their sin so they didn’t shun him? Never. He was wholly set apart and different, and that’s probably why they were so drawn to him. He was weird and different, but full of love at the same time. Weren’t we called to be Christ-like?

Be Christ-like.

And, know that when you choose to be Christ-like, you will be treated as he was. Persecuted. Hated. The world will not accept you because it did not accept him (john 15:18). Even the church will mock and disdain you, my friend. Still, I encourage you to be Christ-like. The world will notice that you have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). Not only, but your actions will please your Heavenly Father, which is worth more than the accolades any man can give. Be at peace!