Monday, June 27, 2016

Freshman Fifteen

Arriving at Mars Hill College as a freshman was an exciting time.  However, in no time at all I soon put on the dreaded freshman fifteen.  In hindsight, it was probably the ice cream - the cool, creamy smooth goodness called to me every time I set foot in the Cafe'.  I was in my happy place and at least three times a day, I ate ice cream.  For breakfast, I would eat cereal with vanilla ice cream because, really, what is ice cream but cold milk with a little sugar and vanilla flavoring? Ice cream was the perfect breakfast food.  Lunch was always followed by a cone of mint chocolate chip that I ate as I was walking to my afternoon classes.  Dinner was a relaxing time where my friends and I sat around chatting after dinner with a generous bowl of cookies and cream.   If you asked me at the time- I would happily talk about how awesome ice cream was and how happy it made me.   Little did I know my ice cream habit was harmful to me and even affecting my relationships. It is amazing to think that I had any friends when I ate ice cream three meals a day. Seriously, my friend Loren called me "Oh Gaseous One"!  Yes, they are still my friends!

Flash forward twenty years, I have made a complete 180 degree change.  After my youngest son was born, I dealt with a child who didn't sleep through the night and was constantly projectile vomiting. It was tough. Out of desperation, I began an elimination diet that consisted of rice and plain chicken for two weeks.  He improved and I learned that I was lactose intolerant. What an eye opening experience!

In hindsight,  I had been given hints.  I ate cream cheese sandwiches on white bread with milk everyday for lunch in 7th grade. I remember coming home from school sincerely asking my mom why I had gas and she in a matter of fact way said, "Everyone has gas." So I thought it was normal and continued on in my dairy induced haze.  Several years before my youngest was born, my sweet mother- in-law mentioned I might be lactose intolerant. With absolute sincerity, I explained I couldn't be lactose intolerant because I ate milk all the time. As I reflect on my absolute blindness to my lactose sensitivity, I can't help but compare it to spiritual blindness to sin before Christ. 

Ephesians 4:17,18 says "Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart."

This passage from Ephesians that points out that we must no longer walk as Gentiles do.  They walk in ignorance and they can't see the truth.   I spent a lot of years in ignorance of a real problem in my life. I really thought I was normal.  Unless God opens someone's eyes to places of sin in their lives, they probably think they are normal too. 

We get used to the stench of sin.  Our society is saturated with it. Our parents can pass on patterns of sin just the way my parents, who are from Wisconsin, passed on a love of all things dairy. As we grow in our relationship with Christ, God will open our eyes to the places in our lives that need to change.  

Ephesians 4 : 20-24 continues with an encouragement that in Christ we don't have to continue in old patterns and habits. "But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."

This is an encouraging passage. We can change the unhealthy and corrupt spiritual patterns in our lives and put on the holiness and righteousness of Christ. 

"Deceitful desires" from verse 22 is a phrase that resonates with me as I think about my desire for ice cream.  I honestly thought it was a good desire. But the truth is that I was deceived by my tastebuds that were corrupted by constantly eating sweets and by the general acceptance of the people around me. It took me a long time to realize that ice cream didn't do my body any good!  Just because it made me happy, didn't mean it was good for me.  All that sugar wasn't doing me any good and I have learned that in some people milk can cause inflammation, limit absorption of iron and bind to opioid receptors in the brain creating a craving that is good for babies so they eat and slept better.  It is interesting that I found out many of the problems with milk- after I gave it up.  Often the full consequences of sin aren't revealed till we are no longer caught in the deception.  

It took me a while to lose that Freshman fifteen.  It wasn't easy -God had to literally change my taste buds and change my desires.  It hasn't been perfect and until about five years ago, it was still a struggle. As newlywed, I got very frustrated with my husband because he couldn't understand why I needed six half gallons of ice cream at all times.  It has been a journey- God has given me a desire for things that are good and pure and taught me how to "taste and see that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8)" It has been blessed, God has revealed places of sin that are holding me back from fully experiencing his presence and when I give up the deceitfully desirable things for the infinitely valuable I have been abundantly blessed and so have the people around me.

It was hard for me to see places of spiritual and physical blindness.  Have you experienced God showing you things that need to change in your life?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Watch me!

"So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him." 2 Corinthians 5:9

We are wrapping up a fun time at the beach. We have made beautiful sand castles, rode the waves, played competitive mini golf and had a lot of good family time.  One common refrain of all this fun has been, "Watch me, Dad! Look at this, Mom."  Flips and jumps into the pool are followed by "Did you see that Mom?" Sandcastle creations are celebrated by "Look at this moat" and an explanation of all the intricacies of castle architecture.  As my boys called out to me, I couldn't help think that our desire to be acknowledged and to be rewarded for our contributions doesn't go away when we stop doing flips in a pool. Our desire for our parents' approval has a foundation that is based on our need for God's approval.

One of the biggest juxtapositions as a believer in Jesus Christ is the knowing that only through grace are we saved - nothing we have done would ever be good enough to to earn salvation (Eph 2:8) but we are created to do good works.  Ephesians 2:10 say, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."    Each of us are created to do wonderful things, not to earn our salvation but to be all that God created us to be.

Our desire to please God and earn his applause is a good thing.  In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the story of a man who gave his employees money to manage for him.  To the employees that managed his resources well, "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'Matt 25:21NIV Each of us should desire God's approval even more than my boys want to hear, "Good Job!"

As we get older our need for approval from our parents should transition to a mature God-given desire to hear him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." If this doesn't happen we  will spend our energy focused on pleasing people. As pop singer Lady Gaga has aptly put it, "I live for the applause."  I know many of people who spend their time seeking approval from other people in their jobs, social circles or an online persona rather than focusing on God's favor and approval. This is an empty pit that never satisfies.  The author of Galatians writes about the dangers of this choice,  "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ." Gal 1:10.   This verse says if I am valuing any one else's opinion over Christ's, I have become their servant.  My goal is to be a servant of Christ and to seek his applause.

How do you give God's opinion priority over other people's opinion?  How can you distinguish between seeking the approval of people or God using people to refine you as iron sharpens iron?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bed Time Stories

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him...” Exodus 32:1

Bedtime stories are one of the best parts of parenting.   I love reading books and reading with my kids is such happy time for me.  When my boys were little I would check piles and piles of books out of the Library.  We’d read books about sharks, dinosaurs, rocks, and funny books like “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” or  “Scaredy Squirrel.”  So much fun!  We’d also read children’s Bibles, highly edited versions with lots of pictures and happy stories.   My youngest loved the Bible so I had to find kids Bibles that made the jump to deeper stories than Creation or Baby Jesus being born.  A good interim Bible was the Kids Message Bible.  One year, I picked up the Brick Bible which is illustrated with Legos at our local book store.  It was definitely PG 14 and included stories that my 8 year old hadn’t heard before. As a warning, one of his friends picked it up and saw all the clear red Legos everywhere and commented, “There’s a lot of blood in this book.” He was right, the Bible is often a violent book and there are many things I don’t quite understand.

In the years since we bought the Brick Bible, our bedtime reading has turned into one chapter a night of an unabridged Kids Bible.  We read chapter by chapter and verse by verse.   We’ve been plowing through Exodus recently.  It is one of those books that starts out awesome.  The stories from the first chapters of Exodus fill children’s picture Bibles and are the stuff of movies.  Baby Moses is born and is put in a basket to be watched by his big sister, Moses is adopted into Pharaoh’s family, Moses talks with the burning bush, Moses goes back to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go, the ten plagues, the Passover, the escape from Pharaoh's army and the parting of the Red Sea.    Good stuff!  The amazing thing is all this is covered in 15 chapters.   In chapter 19, Moses heads of Mt Sinai and God gives him the Ten Commandments.  Most kids’ books end there.

But Exodus continues and for the next twelve chapters, it gets down in the details and weeds of setting up a new nation under God.  Following is a list of the section headings – hang with me to the end.  Hebrew Servants, Personal Injuries, Protection of Property, Social Responsibility, Laws of Justice and Mercy, Sabbath Laws, Three Annual Festivals, God’s Angel to Prepare the Way, Covenant of the Confirmed, Offerings for the Tabernacle, The Ark, The Table, The Lampstand, The Tabernacle, The Alter of Burnt Offering, The Courtyard, Oil for the lampstand, The Priestly Garments, The Breastpiece, Other Priestly Garments, Consecration of Priests,  Altar of Incense, Atonement Money, Basin for Washing, Anointing Oil, Incense, Bezalel and Oholiab, and The Sabbath.   Our family has been slogging through these chapters –wondering why all these details were important.  Why did the robes have to be made of linen? Why were the curtains and basins described in SO MUCH detail? It was the Word of God but some of us were wishing we were reading a kid version that skipped all the boring stuff. 

If you think it took a long time to read all the details of the Law in Exodus-imagine waiting at the foot of the mountain in the desert. The Israelites found the wait unbearable.  Moses had been up on the mountain a long time. Since they didn’t have the option of skipping ahead a couple of chapters to find out what comes next, they decided to come up with their own solution instead of waiting on God.  Here how their problem solving went, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him…  (Aaron) took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”” Exodus 32:1, 4

What!! How do you go from the amazing miracles of the Plagues, parting the Red Sea and water from a rock to asking Aaron to make an idol for you!!!   I never got it until this most recent time of reading Exodus with my boys.  I could see them sigh and then zone out as we read about priestly tassels and blood on the horns of the altars.  Ughh!  It was slow reading.  There were lots of other things they would have rather been doing. 

The light bulb turned on in my head. All of us can be just like the Israelites.  God may be doing something amazing- yet because I am at the base of the mountain -I don’t see his hand writing the Ten Commandments and I don’t see that He is putting in place plans for my protection and blessing.  Impatience leads to finding substitutes to God’s plans.   I have seen so many people settle in relationships- friends who got in sexual relationships that were out of God’s plan, people who found their meaning in what they did rather than what God did for them, friends who transferred their God given ability to worship from the Holy One to worshiping a football team.  Times when I put my desire for friends and other people’s good opinion and my fear of rejection above God’s perspective.  All of this is idolatry, it may be not as obvious as dancing around a golden calf but the same in God’s eyes. Idolatry begins when we focus on what we can see; we look for things that immediately satisfy rather than realizing that God is working things out for our benefit and His glory.  God has great blessings and rewards for waiting. Trust that God has amazing things in store for you- what He did to set you free is just the beginning.    Have you experienced a difficult time when you wondered what God was doing?  How did you stay focused on God?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

#Hate The Wait

“Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. Jeremiah 32:17

The phrase #HatetheWait  has been popping up on social media to capture the feeling of people who are caught in long TSA lines at the airport.  Most of us hate to wait, we want fast food, instant gratification and no lines.   I heard a quote from someone who had recently moved to a communist country, she characterized the people in that country as very good at standing in line.  I am not good at standing in line.  
My son went to a new charter school and one of the kinks they had not worked out was carpool line.  The line stretched around the building and around the corner into a local neighborhood.  I sat in line every day praying for God to fix the line because I live by the motto- Nothing is too big or too small for God to fix.    I did my best to use the time I was in carpool wisely, I talked to my sister, edited my bible study and listened to praise music.  I tried to have a grateful attitude- I mean, really, what a luxury to spend over an hour a day waiting to pick my child up from school.  As much as I realized the gift- I hated the wait.

Waiting is hard- it is hard to wait when we know the blessing to come and it is even harder when there is uncertainty and disappointment in the wait.  It is hard to have patience and trust God when we don’t see the line moving and when it seems as if nothing is happening.   I have been thinking about the balance between patience and doing the work in relation to a farmer’s life.   The farmer has a lot of prep work to reap a harvest.   She has to buy a field and then prepare it.  Next she plants the seed and waters it.  Once the seed goes in the ground- the time of waiting begins.   For weeks after planting the seed, it appears as if nothing is happening.  I wonder if a farmer has ever prematurely dug up a just sprouted seed to see if it is growing but in her impatience harmed the baby plant? Impatience can lead to long term consequences just look at Sarah and Hagar.  The farmer could have doubts- did she properly prepare the soil, did she plant the best type of seeds for her land, are the seeds getting enough water, will she ever reap a harvest?

James 5:7-9 encourages us “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!”
The farmer had done all that she could do- the successful harvest was dependent on the Lord sending the rain.  God had said He would do it and had done it before, the farmer just had to wait.  I think it is interesting that this passage captures the idea when we are in the process of being patient and waiting- we need to guard against grumbling.  We need to do what God has called us to do, stand firm and persevere.   Trust God is at work even though you don’t see any change.  Miracles are taking place below the surface.  New life is being formed.  Hearts are being changed and prayers are being answered.

Back to my car pool situation, I continued to pray.  I put it on my weekly school prayer request list and gave it to God. I didn’t complain though I hated the wait. I trusted God was doing things in my impatient heart or there were things I needed to do while waiting.  Then one day, an announcement came out that the carpool line was changing. It seemed the local neighborhood had gone to the police and requested a change.  Small tweaks were being made to have double lines in the parking lot.  In what seemed like a flash the wait dissipated.  I no longer had time to edit my book or talk to my sister; sixteen cars at a time peacefully rolled through the school pick up line.   It was time for harvest and a time to celebrate.  This was a little thing but "Nothing is too big or too small for God to fix."

Do you #hatethewait?  How do you keep from grumbling?  
Have you experienced a time when wait came to an end and you were able to reap the harvest?