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).

 

 

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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!

 

The Agony of Our Father

Published October 25, 2017 by Dawn

Can we just not talk about it? I mean, I need to talk to you about something, but I really cannot actually talk about it. It’s still too raw. It still hurts and I don’t want to talk about it. But I need to, as an act of obedience, tell you the deep truth that was dropped into my spirit today. Do we have a deal?

Okay, so here goes: my son … my thirteen-year-old baby, my heart growing up to be a man … this boy that I love so much … he moved out a month ago. He’s been living with his dad. I can’t tell you all the prayers I’ve prayed, or the amount of tears I have cried. The fake smile I’ve plastered on my face to maintain composure around people because life goes on … I can’t tell you about these things just yet because I can’t even bring myself to talk about it with any real depth. The pain in my heart, the ache in my chest, the thoughts in my head. I can’t even.

Today, I got a call from school. They were just checking on him because he wasn’t there. I didn’t even know. I called his dad and found out he was sick.

Without me.

Today was the first day my son has ever been sick without me. He stayed home without me. The first time I didn’t hold him while he suffered. I didn’t even know he was suffering! I got off the phone and broke down in tears.  The Lord, being very gentle with me lately, whispered, “This agony you feel … I feel it all the time. My children choose to suffer without me too.”

Oh, my soul! My heart is breaking! Can this really be the agony God suffers through when His children suffer at a distance? This, guys … this is why Jesus came. Because for thousands of years before Calvary, God watched His children suffer the disastrous effects of sin. The turmoil of living outside of the will of God. The panic, fear, desperation … God watched his children suffer without him until he could bear it no longer. Then he sent Jesus.

But Church, even after Christ, there is still this war. This suffering. Endless agony. Christians living in fear and lost people living in sin. God’s heart, I now know, is breaking for us. How many parents have watched helplessly while their children have made bad choices and suffered drastic consequences? You know, then, the pain of a Father who loves his children. You know the feeling of desperation on their behalf. Can our Heavenly Father feel any less for his children?

If this is you … if you are suffering at a distance because you feel unworthy, I just want you to know one thing: God does not love you because of your worthiness. He loves you because he chose to as he lovingly knit you together in the secret place. He hasn’t changed his mind about you. You may have made choices against his will, and you might be suffering consequences, but you are no less loved than you have ever been because God is unchanging. If you feel the Holy Spirit leading you with this truth, I implore you to surrender and be led into the arms of God. He longs for you. His heart is yearning for your nearness just as much as you are yearning for his. Run to Him. He loves you.

Faith is Better than Fear

Published October 19, 2017 by Dawn

It’s three o’clock in the morning and instead of sleeping, I’m thinking about the first time I conscientiously told a lie. I was in fifth grade. I even remember where I was standing when I made the decision to lie, against my better judgment. I was right outside the gym in my middle school. I don’t remember who I was talking to, but I do remember the struggle. Angel on one side, demon on the other. I bit my lip and told a lie knowing in my heart it was wrong and I shouldn’t have done it. That’s not quite the same as all the lies I might have told before, when my conscience had not yet been awakened. This lie was pivotal: I realized how beneficial lying could be to me, and the first seed of suspicion was sown into my heart.

I’ve always been a little naïve. Apt to trust others’ words more than their actions. Imagine my surprise when, at 13, someone told me that everything my dad had ever told me about his life growing up was a lie. I thought the world of my dad. He was the bravest, most daring man I knew and I loved the adventurous stories he shared of his life. Then I found out they were all lies. It crushed me profoundly. But perhaps not as badly as the lies my first “real” boyfriend told. All the time. I wanted everything he said to be true so badly, I lied to myself in defense of him until I was 20! I can’t imagine how gullible you must think me, but then again, it’s probably accurate because … I was 20 when I finally stopped believing what everyone else knew wasn’t true YEARS before.

The problem became, not my believing everything, but suddenly, I believed nothing. My naturally trusting nature became naturally suspicious of everything and everyone.

The Lord confronted me about this a few weeks ago at church. A little background here: God has given me promises. Not just me, but all of us. I take them very personal. I believe my children are His children, and when God said in His word, “I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save,” I wrote down the date He spoke this into my spirit because it was a rhema word to me. Boy, did I need it!

My son has embarked on a treacherous climb up his own mountain without me. God is training him to be a warrior and moms aren’t invited on that adventurous trip. There’s no way I could ever help my son become a man because princes fight dragons and princesses fear them. There’s a valiance that needs to be awakened in a boy that moms, in fear, can really impede. You couldn’t convince me otherwise because I’m living this truth. It’s not mere words to me.

Anyway, back to the believing thing: my faith has wavered for a while. I took my suspicion into the throne room in prayer and waved it in God’s face. He’d say something and I would get all defensive because I have learned to trust my sight much more than the words I hear – so antithetical to faith, but the world works opposite from God. He has spoken promises to me, and I have looked at the floor and angrily shaken my fist, refusing to believe. “But what is the truth here?!”

The Lord said to me while I was praying, shaking my fist, “You have been filled with suspicion, and you have questioned everything I have spoken to you. But God is not a man, that he should lie to you.”

That’s in Numbers 23:19, but it’s also been engraved on my heart since then, and this powerful truth has literally changed the battle in my prayer time. Whereas before, I would grovel at the Lord’s feet in utter turmoil because what is happening is so vastly different than what I expected things would look like (in my weakness, this does still happen sometimes), I am learning to pray boldly, speaking the promises of God into the atmosphere, reminding myself of scripture and the promises of God concerning my kids. Instead of allowing the devil to destroy my heart and mind with fear, I am pronouncing faithfully those things God has spoken. His words have become a weapon in my home, bringing peace and security into what has otherwise been the worst time of my life. I haven’t slept all week, but I have prayed powerful prayers in a place of real pain and heartache.

I might not be able to accompany my son on this long, scary trek. As his mother, I would have forbidden it. God knew that, so he took the matter out of my hands. He is raising a warrior. I would have raised a tall boy still clutching to his momma’s apron strings. However, although he’s in the hands of his Father, my prayers are with him, and I am speaking light into the darkness on his behalf:

God is not a man that He can lie (Numbers 23:19).

My children, He has promised to save (Isaiah 49:25).

No weapon formed against us will prosper, and this is not just my promise, but my son’s promise too (Isaiah 54:17).

When my son walks through the water, God will be with him. The rivers will not sweep over him. When he walks through the fire, he will not be burned (Isaiah 43:2-4)

If I raise up my children in the way they should go (which I have), when they are older they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).

There are so many other precious promises in the Bible that I have begun to declare in faith because God cannot lie to me. And He will not, because it is not in His nature to do so. We do not need to regard the things He says to us with suspicion because if God spoke it, it is true. Although our feelings and our sight might disagree, we can bank on it. We may not know how, or when, God’s truth will come to pass. The timing thing is still something I am getting used to. God is working on a completely different timeframe than me and I don’t really understand it, but again, He told me I wouldn’t. God has never lied to us. His ways are higher, and His thoughts as well (Isaiah 55:8). We won’t always understand what He is doing. I promise you, though, if you begin to believe His word over your experiences, you will have peace and I believe Satan will tremble as you speak the promises of God over your circumstances.

If, on the other hand, you struggle to believe because of your experiences, I encourage you to read your Bible more. It is a record of God’s faithfulness in the lives of many other people, just in case you can’t overcome your suspicion that easily. Take your heart to God and read of His faithfulness. See if you do not experience a mighty change of opinion toward Him. Faith is so much better than fear, friend. God bless!

 

 

Yes, You Can Know God

Published October 11, 2017 by Dawn

It is amazing that across the eons of time, God has remained enshrouded in mystery and so incalculable to the human race. We dare not attempt to explain or define Him, because our finite understanding can never do justice to the God of the universe. There is so much about Him that doesn’t make sense in our limited understanding and so many facets of His nature and personality that we have yet to see even a glimpse of. The only thing we can say with absolute surety is that we will never understand God in all of His fullness, and even the things we do know about Him, we know pensively without absolution. God is so much more than we can ever imagine.

I found myself in speechless awe the other day as I was reading the book of John because a scripture I have read so many times finally came to light upon me with a clarity that stunned and enraptured me. Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” I read it and went on to the next verse and the next until I read again in John 12:45, “The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.” Jesus continued further on, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well” (John 14:7) … anyone who has seen me has seen the Father … The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:9-10).

Suddenly, I realized what it was Christ was getting at: we can begin to understand the nature of God by knowing the nature of Christ.

Y’all!

There are many religions that acquiesce to believe that Jesus was a great man, a prophet and a prolific teacher. But not Christianity. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus is the son of God, the incarnation of God in the flesh. I have professed this faith so many times, but it JUST NOW dawned on me: God is not unlike Christ. He is no better or worse than Christ. He is Christ. All the attributes that humanity witnessed in Christ belong to God, our Heavenly Father. He came to us to show us something of Himself, and although we know we do not comprehend even the smallest smidge of who God is in His fullness, we can know what He chose to reveal to us through our fellowship with the Word of God made flesh among us.

I know … you’re probably wondering how I could have read the Bible so many times and missed this truth. I have no idea. I just know that for the first time in my life, I finally see how God can be merciful and just, brutally honest but still loving, forgiving but confrontational too. Jesus was all of these things, and he told us, “For I do not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:49-50).

When Jesus drove money-changers out of the temple, we see that within God’s character is an element of righteous indignation. His house was being used flippantly for petty, worldly things. He had a standard for His temple and guarded it jealously. Scripture calls it “zeal.” God is full of zeal for His righteous standards, then.

When Jesus showed kindness to a woman caught in adultery, we can clearly see that God is kind toward the humiliated, weary soul. Christ did not affirm her in her sin, but He did not condemn and chastise either. His holiness alone was enough to convince her of her wickedness. Likewise, we know that God will defend the weak and miserable against the proud outrage of merciless humanity, but He will never stand in defense of sin, even when he stands in defense of a sinner. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

When we read of Jesus waiting after knowing Lazarus was sick, we find that God is patient when proving something of Himself to stubborn unbelievers. We also see a brokenness in Christ over having to use such a drastic tragedy to illuminate people’s minds and hearts with truth. Jesus did not enjoy waiting and did not rejoice in the pain it brought to Lazarus’ family and friends. On the contrary, he cried with them. God loves us through the trying times, and even empathizes with us when His purposes momentarily cause us grief and pain.

When Jesus slept soundly in the bottom of a boat while men and women around him gawked in fear at the raging sea, we find our God is never troubled by the storms of life, no matter how fierce they seem. He does not stir in anticipation, but responds only to the heart-cry of His fearful sheep. Peter yelled, “Master, carest not thou that we perish?” Jesus immediately woke and calmed the storm. He didn’t pay attention to the wind and waves, but he couldn’t ignore the turbulence in Peter’s chilling cries. Our God also does not waver when chaos comes. He remains steadfast and immovable. He is only ever moved by one thing: the cries of His children. When we scream out in agony, fear or disbelief, God immediately responds because we have touched His heartstrings with the faith of a child. We don’t know what we expect of Him, we just know that He is where our hope lies.

I could go on, friend, talking about all the miracles and acts of love wherein Jesus showed us the Great Liberator, Provider, Healer, and Friend, but you can read for yourself and find more about the character of God. One event urges me forward to the most pivotal moment in all humanity: Christ died for us.

Can you even imagine the love of God? Can you imagine the seriousness of sin? Can you imagine the desperation of our Creator to be with us? Christ died for us.

Our God, full of repugnance at the thought of sin destroying His Beloved, came down and lived this life. Can you imagine? Who doesn’t, at some point, feel the anguish of living? The destitution, suffering, pain and rejection? God faced it all because in His wisdom, He knew we wouldn’t bring ourselves to His feet if we thought He couldn’t relate. He faced it because He wanted to fully understand our humanity under the spell of Satan. He faced it because He wanted the devil to know defeat at every angle. God, full of love and compassion for our fallen state, determined to have us again for all time and began just where we begin: born into a broken world. He came with no majesty, no physical appeal. He was cloaked in the most ordinary and unattractive way. He was true to Himself and therefore despised and rejected. And then, He did it. He allowed Himself, the Creator of all things, to be spit upon, beaten, shattered and torn – nailed to a cross in the utmost of human agony – God created the plan and submitted to all that Hell’s fury could aim at Him. All because He loved us.

His friends, tormented for days, felt the anguish of loss and were not comforted. Three days. Then, in unknown limitless power, Jesus rose. God Incarnate rose up from under the crushing weight of death that no man can defeat. God prevailed! For us!

Do you see it? How much God hates sin? How much He adores us? Oh, what Love! While there are many facets of God – many attributes of His character and nature – we finally must admit, Beloved, that in all that God is, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). In His justice, He is love. In His discipline, He is love. In His mercy, Love. In His grace, Love. In His righteousness, Love. In His fullness, God is love. In every way that God operates, He continually shows us the many ways He loves us. Too much to give up on us, too much to leave us in our sin, too much to abandon us. Everything He says and everything He does communicates His love for us. Sometimes, it’s tough love and sometimes, it’s a sweet, sweet salve. Always, it’s God’s love.

Saving a Pastor Time and Money

Published October 2, 2017 by Dawn

My old job kept me in captivity most of the time. Captive to monotonous conversations I couldn’t get out of even for a phone call. I was a receptionist. I do recall, however, one of the shortest and most meaningful conversations of my life. I made an enemy in less than two minutes.

I didn’t mean to. It was really just a case of not thinking before I spoke, but it did two things: it freed me up to get back to work and delivered a gut-punch of truth I wouldn’t have muttered if I would have thought about it. After years of cultivating the precious habit, I now think before I speak (sometimes, rather than never) and usually give truth more tactfully, but this lady didn’t even see it coming.

A coworker of mine had sidled up to the counter and peered down at me while I ended a phone call. Poor lady. She was just trying to put some distance between herself and her own nightmarish conversation. But she picked me to talk to and that might not have been the best decision …

I’m not sure how the conversation started, but she was telling me about her second job. She was a social worker by day and a public speaker by … another day. Her topic: building the church. She traveled on the weekends delivering conferences on how to build the church through best business practice. My first question was pure curiosity: “People pay for that?” She bragged, “Yeah!” Then I did it. Engrossed by the idea and in the spirit of conversation, I mused, “That’s so weird! I mean, Jesus said in the Bible, ‘I will build the church.’ I can’t believe pastors pay for that!”

I kid you not.

She gave me a hurt look and without saying another word, she turned and walked to the farthest corner of the room and sat down. She gave me pitiful glances for the next half an hour and I just smiled dimwittedly at her because I had no idea how much I had hurt her ego.

I’ve been thinking about this for over a week now because for once, I finally understand why people pay for things like that. Someone told me a few Sundays past that they are seeking another church because as much as they love the one I attend, they preferred to be in a church where the youth are on fire for God. I agreed with her wholeheartedly, as that’s so important. Inside, though, it stung. I’m the youth leader…

When the Lord called me into youth ministry, I committed to God that I would never rely on gimmicks to build up a youth group. I told the Lord that day that I would simply teach the Word of God and let the chips fall where they may. I ministered for years to groups of three or four … sometimes two, and on some occasions, one. Every once in a while, the group would swell to eight, ten or twelve. Inevitably, though, I’d lose some and the numbers would go down again. Remembering that it’s important to be faithful in the little things, I have always just pressed on, teaching a message each week to whomever showed up that I had faithfully studied and prayed over all week prior. God was faithful to give me a word in due season and I was faithful to feed His sheep. I knew what she meant, though. We’re not, per se, “on fire.”

This friend’s comment, as honest and admirable as it was, hurt my pride. I went home and prayed in my closet, “God, if there’s someone else you want to move in here, please send them! I am not so proud that I won’t sit down and let someone else rock this for your glory. I wouldn’t mind being done.” I’ve been doing youth ministry for nine years.

I felt the desperation. I felt what many pastors must feel after faithfully ministering for so long to a congregation that is either dying or dead. And I finally realized that we’re all like the woman in the Gospels with the issue of blood. We’re dealing with a sickness that’s been persisting for so long, we’re desperate. We’re willing to throw money at anything that seems promising, even if it means paying someone to strategize about the carpet, the seating arrangements, the music and the length of the sermon. We’ll even trust a carnal businessman if he’s promising a positive change to the depressing state of our churches.

But, like her, perhaps our hope will not be found there. Jesus said in John 6:44 that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” Unfortunately, that means we’ve wasted a lot of time and money, and fruitless effort, trying to do something no man (or woman) on earth can do. And I think we’re a little confused about what it means to be on fire, too. We can purchase the amazing theatre lights, go for broke on our musical instruments and shout the roof down, but that’s all just hype if people don’t leave services changed. As a teacher, I have seen many students go from Wednesday night youth to Friday night dances wearing the shortest and most revealing dresses and cussing like a sailor. Undulating with the sway of human depravity and hiding behind their sheepish grins when our eyes meet. These young people are not on fire, even if they raise their hands and worship or give the most eloquent testimonies.

Dear pastors and youth pastors, please don’t waste another penny on conferences that promise to make a difference. Trust me, they won’t. I’ll save you time and money by shortening the truth to this: touching Jesus in prayer and intercession is the only thing that’s going to work. Holiness doesn’t always look like a loud, boisterous service. God spoke to Elijah on the mount in a still small voice, not in the earthquake, wind or fire. You can’t replicate the work of the Holy Spirit and get the same results Jesus got. Be faithful in prayer, teach what God speaks to you and leave the burden to God. If you are desperate, good! That just means you’ve read and understand James 3:1, which says, “not many of you should become teachers, brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

If you are afraid you aren’t doing something right as a minister, it’s okay. It’s humbling when you think about it: God chose jars of clay with hearts of stone to use to minister to the world. On our own, we are rather pitiful. We need God to infuse us. Infuse the worship and message we bring with His power and set people on fire because we can’t do that on our own. No matter how much we water down the gospel to fill the pews, we will not see people on fire for God in our own strength.

I hope this takes a load off. It does for me, at least. If you find this piece offending, I think it’s probably because you think too much of yourself. Jars of clay. Remember that. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this extraordinary power does not come from us, but from God” (2 Cor. 4:7). God bless, friends!

 

Trusting God on a Fearsome Wave

Published September 27, 2017 by Dawn

I gently laid my phone down on the counter after a major act of obedience and thought to myself, “Well … that was weird.”

I had just sent a text to my ex – the man who had, until recently, been on the far periphery of our lives while I raise two kids solo – telling him I was praying for him. I also thanked him for “stepping up.” Do bitter moms even do that, like, ever?

It was a response to prayer. I had just had a major freak-out session with God about my son because – let’s just say he hasn’t made the wisest choices this week. I immediately reacted (or overreacted), and my son decided he wanted to go to his dad’s for the week.

My son.

This man … he’s struggled to be reliable in the past and I don’t necessarily approve of his decisions and the person he has chosen to become. I certainly have not envisioned the path he took in life as the path I want my kids to walk. I have prayed very fervently over the years that God would send someone to help me in raising these kids because I have never wanted to do this alone. I’m fifteen years in and I have only remained single as an act of obedience. It was not my will. I have crumbled many times over the years. My prayers have run the gamut:

God, please. Send someone to help me in raising these kids. I can’t do this alone.

Lord, if it’s your will for me to remain single, be my Husband. Help me. They are your children and you care about them. Do your thing.

Husband, I need your help in raising these kids.

When their dad decided very recently to begin to pull his life together and step up, my prayer changed. I became insolent and bitter. God, I asked you to send me someone. I’ve been begging for years. I have allowed you to do your thing in my life and when you finally send someone it’s him. You have nothing better than this?

I’m a little embarrassed at my attitude but there’s no point in denying it. The truth sets us free, right? I began to pray for his salvation, and that God would separate him from things that are no good for him. I prayed he would hear God and respond to him. I also prayed fervently that he would move as far away as possible so my kids wouldn’t wander into foreign lifestyles that he might introduce them to.

After a disturbing day yesterday, when my son left to go to his dad’s house, I broke down. I kind of threw a panicked fit. None of this was in my plans. I had just spoken to a few people this past weekend about Job and how Satan was really aiming at God’s goodness. He wanted Job to denounce God and admit God wasn’t good. I quoted the scripture, “Shall we accept good from God and not bad also?” And another, “His ways are higher.” These verses nagged at me while I questioned God.

I am so glad God is patient with us. He listened without speaking for a long time and when I was finally done ranting, I heard Him speak in my spirit: What if, through this need, I can work in both of them? Is it impossible that I can call him up higher by presenting a need you can’t meet? Isn’t his salvation and deliverance what you are praying for? Do you trust me?

Let’s just say I hesitated. Then I acquiesce. Hadn’t God delivered me through my children? I prayed a new prayer then. Please be with him and teach him. Give him wisdom. He might not know how to handle this but you do. Open his ears and his heart to hear and obey you, Lord. I leave my son in your hands.

Proverbs tells us that “as a man thinks in his heart, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7). I can’t keep holding the old man over my ex’s head and expecting him to become someone new. I also know that if this man is the man God intends to raise my son, while also redeeming him, who am I to question? Who am I to remain bitter? I have to stand in God’s decision and be a help and not a hindrance. I can’t let my pride, or any roots of bitterness, endanger the man my son will become. I have to allow God to use this man I had previously had no respect for – I have to respect him as the instrument God intends to use to make my boy a man. I have to pray for him. I have to encourage him. I have to forgive him and allow him to step up. I don’t have to trust this man; I only need to trust God. So I sent the text. I reflected on how strange it felt, but let it be. I freaked out again today, because I am still struggling with memories that haunt me. I have plans for my son. But so does God, and he has two sons to train here. In my son’s life, his dad will become the greater influence while I become the lesser.

God can do anything, friend. Don’t we say that all the time? We sing the songs, we quote the scriptures, but at some point, we have to walk the talk and only then will we know whether or not we really believe God is who He says He is, and is capable of all He claims to be capable of. In what ways is God stretching your faith? Let Him. Don’t argue or fight it. Just let Him.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).