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“Holiday Inn” (I bought it without having seen it!!!)

23 Dec

Since I am stretching myself this Christmas and trying to see some holiday movies I haven’t seen before, I watched “Holiday Inn” today.  I believe I have seen parts of it before, but never the whole movie.  

What I took from it was that Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire finally learned that manipulating a woman to win her is not cool!  They fought over the same women all movie long.  If one wanted her, the other wanted her.  Usually it was Fred Astaire, scheming to take away Bing Crosby’s newest love.  But Bing did plenty of manipulation of his own, trying to keep Fred from taking away his girlfriends!!!  

When once Bing backed off and gave a woman the freedom to walk out of his life, he wound up winning back the woman he loved.  Tellingly, he was the first to the altar of the two (we presume, from the ending of the movie . . .). 

This movie reinforces the idea that love of a human being can easily become idolatry (of self or of that other person).  Even though the movie was not meant to teach Christian theology, it was made in a simpler time when such lessons often came just by being part of the society back then.  

People are not possessions.  Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire learn that in “Holiday Inn.”  Have we?  

Javert, Les Mis, and the Law vs. Grace

11 Nov

This is actually my favorite aria of “Les Miserables” because it shows how easily the human heart becomes enraptured by the law instead of grace.

Javert sounds so totally normal here until you remember he has spent over 20 years hunting someone down for stealing a loaf of bread.

Balance, people. Since we have to live together, there is a time for the law.

But we Christians should never define Christianity as being a list of laws to keep!!!

Grace!

When Marriage Becomes Idolatry . . .

21 Sep

“And the prince and the princess entered the castle together as husband and wife and lived happily ever after, surrounded by their moat and their seven wonderful children . . .”

Isn’t that how the fairy tale ending usually plays out?  

Or, of more relevance to those of us raised on the beautiful love stories of the golden age of Hollywood, isn’t that how the movie usually ends?  Except the prince and the princess are usually commoners in the movies . . .

Regardless of the social status of the central characters, both fairy tales and Hollywood’s best movies convey the same idea– that marriage is a state in which two people spend the rest of their lives gazing into each other’s eyes, oblivious to the rest of the world out there, except for those gorgeous children who come along to complete the couple’s family circle.  

And this idea is one that I have long sought to balance in the thinking of the younger women with whom I have been privileged to have a friendship.  

It is a short step from loving someone with all my heart to idolatry.  And it is a short step from love to obsession, if love is anchored by Hollywood’s standards instead of by the Word of God.

God gave us the Great Commission to reach a hurting world for Christ.  That alone should tell us that we Christians were not created to spend a lifetime gazing into someone’s eyes.  There are times that is lovely and appropriate, but not an entire lifetime.  And it hurts my heart when I see younger girlfriends who seem to judge the health of their marriages by whether their spouses make them the center of their lives.  

Ummm, it’s Christ who is supposed to be the center of our lives as Christians, both as Christian men and as Christian women.  When we derail that truth, we go over the line into idolatry.  Or worse, into obsession with another human being, making him the center of our life and trying to force him to make us the center of his life.  

Not healthy.  Not tenable.  Life won’t work that way for long.  It isn’t meant to work that way.

I once heard the definition that a healthy Christian marriage is not two people gazing at each other, but two people, shoulder to shoulder, gazing outward at the world and the place in it where God has called them to serve together. 

Yet I still hear of situations where wives (most commonly wives, although husbands probably do this, too, and I just don’t hear about it as much) have absolute meltdowns over the fact that their husbands don’t do everything with them when not at work.  For those who work together, say in the ministry or in a family run business, the wife can end up totally doubting her husband’s love if he is not at her side 24/7.  

That may have worked in Eden before the Fall but it is not the way marriages work today.  If we put a stranglehold on a relationship we, umm, strangle the life and joy out of that relationship.  

The answer for a wife demanding that her husband put her at the center of his life is not more time and attention.  She needs to be drawn to the Word of God and challenged to put the Lord at the center of her life, as her husband needs to do. God has given us sufficient grace to live in relationship to Him and in relationship to each other without getting out of balance and into idolatry.  

He has a plan for each of our lives and that plan continues even if our spouse should die.  

The primary relationship is with Him, now and forevermore.  We need to be looking at Him,  as first in our lives, to stay on track with what He has called us to do.  

It is in that primary relationship that we find the reason He created us.  Our marriage is part of that reason, but it is not, nor will it ever be, the central reason of our existence.  In marriage, we help each other fulfill God’s plan for us as individuals, and as a team.  

And that is a very great grace.      

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Losing 110 Pounds in 20 Minutes!

28 Jun

Losing 110 Pounds in 20 Minutes!

I got my new base ID today and, with it, a new picture of me, replete in a new red dress. The ID I turned in had my picture 110 pounds ago, in a red jumper that was precisely 10 sizes bigger than the dress I wore today. In essence, I lost 110 pounds in the course of a 20 minute photography session!

I was thinking about the fact that there are no shortcuts to weight loss. And wondering why God designed the universe that way.

Weight loss (and weight maintenance in a healthy state) are decisions we make one mouthful at a time. And daily when we decide whether we can find a half hour to work out before we flip on the television or the Netflix stream on our computer.

With very rare exceptions, most of us carry weight that is mathematically related to the quality of what we eat, how much of it we eat, and how much we exercise.

I have learned to shudder when I see most snack foods–full of sugar and salt for cheap flavoring, full of preservatives so that they will last on a shelf for years, full of . . . zero nutritional value.

Never say never . . . but I want to make my consumption of processed foods a rare thing. It grieves my heart that they are the cheapest foods in the stores, even in the convenience stores where they are marked up pretty high. Teens and poorer people without cars often buy their food in convenience stores. Teens and poorer people without cars often don’t have access to education about the nutritional value of various foods (or, in the case of teens, they may hear nutritional information but choose to not process it!!!). And those poor brains, when all they get for nourishment is potato chips and Coke!!!

I am hopefully not becoming a food snob, but I want to be a voice of reason in a crazy world of idolatry.

You see, I think the reason God made it so that we have to partner with Him to lose weight, one small decision at a time, is because we would otherwise make an idol of our food, rather than worship the giver of that food.

We still can and do. I read in the paper today that 41% of Americans regard themselves as overweight or obese when . . . it is actually 68.8% who are! Seven out of ten. No wonder the American Medical Association just gave in and declared obesity to be a disease. There is no fighting a statistic like that. We love our food in this country!

I have spent years at weights far higher than what my body was built to carry. I could do it again. I am not home free till I go to be with Jesus someday, to that world where temptations, sin, and idolatry no longer exist.

In the meantime, I struggle, one mouthful at a time, one decision to work out at a time.

But that is good, for the struggle directs me to the foot of the Cross, where I see Christ, who triumphed in my struggles for me.

I truly believe that, if we could eat anything we wanted and never gain weight or if we could will ourselves to lose 110 pounds and have it come off in a week, we would be neckdeep in food idolatry. I believe the struggle helps free us from the idolatry.

Food is a wonderful gift and, in one way, I will always be a foodie! I love cooking and trying new recipes and trying new herbs and spices and trying new combinations of things . . .

I just know that I can’t eat high density calories every day of my life. Either I eat them in smaller portions or I choose to eat something else instead.

And God is faithful, oh so faithful.

I am so totally ordinary, if I can do it, anyone can.

In Christian Marriage, Does God See Us as One Person?

4 Apr

This post goes out to some of our young Christian couples, hoping to keep them from making a mistake that Noel and I made, along with many other couples of our age group (and probably many, many other couples throughout the ages, all the way back to Christ’s time on earth). 

It is the mistake of thinking we need to correct our spouse (“edit his image”) in public.  

Used to be that was done with words.  It was totally unsubtle and pretty easy to eradicate early in marriage because it stuck out like a sore thumb.  

Now I notice it more and more on social media.  

A person tells a story about something that happened to his family; his spouse comes along straightaway and either contradicts some of his details or else expands the story outward with more details to make the person’s image or her family’s image more acceptable to her personal standards.  

Ouch!

Do you see what that does to the original storyteller?  Not only shows him his spouse doesn’t think he can reliably represent events happening to their family but . . . makes a point of showing him that in front of his friends.  I think that publicly airing such a lack of confidence in one’s spouse embarrasses the storyteller much more than he could ever have been embarrassed by any detail he might have possibly gotten wrong in the story!

This also establishes a precedent in a marriage that says, “If I don’t like the way you state something out in public, I regard it as my job to come along and ‘clean up’ after you.”  To edit his words, basically.  

That might be acceptable if God regarded us as one person after marriage, because it would follow that we shared one reputation and one image.  It might even suggest it was okay to jealously guard that reputation and image.  

Unfortunately for the spouses who do this, God’s principle of two people becoming one flesh  applies to their bodies, and to some extent, to their souls.  There is nothing quite so comforting as being physically with someone with whom our soul is calm and at peace.  Knowing that person as we are also known. 

However, spiritually, we remain two individuals, both responsible before God for our choices, especially our choice to either receive Him as Saviour and Lord or . . . to not do that.

Our primary relationship remains with the Lord.  The spouse, a very great gift from God, is the secondary relationship.  If we put the spouse before the Lord in our ranking, we commit idolatry.

I have never seen a spouse who edited her spouse’s words who did not end up having an idolatry issue with that spouse–wanting to present him to the world as almost godlike (and thinking she had a better idea of how to do that than he himself did!).  

When we first arrived in Virginia Beach, we had been married a year and a half.  One of our first friendships at our new church was with a couple just a few years older than us, but married quite a bit longer.  I recall as though it were yesterday an issue we faced at church and how well the wife taught me to handle it.

She and I sang soprano in the choir.  At the time, our husbands hardly came to church.  In fact, they hit it off with each other because they both liked to come once a month–on the day when the men’s group made brunch for everyone to eat after the morning service.  Both husbands basically liked to come to the church to fellowship with the men while they were cooking, then to sit around with the families and have brunch together.  They made a big joke of their once a month attendance!  

It was not a very spiritual orientation to life at the new church and I found myself thinking I should put pressure on my husband to come to church every week.  After all, I was up front in the choir . . .

Someone said something to my friend about her husband’s attendance and she later told me that she had to reach deep inside herself, take a breath, and realize she was not ultimately responsible for her husband nor his image.  She was responsible before God for herself–she was able to convey that to the person who cornered her.  

Later, her mentoring helped me a lot when a neighbor came over to complain to me about some painting he thought my husband needed to do on the outside of our house.  I did not promise to pass the word to Noel.  In fact, I was pretty sure he would not believe me that this neighbor was serious about the painting.  So I asked the neighbor to talk to Noel in person.  He never did.

Now either the neighbor really wasn’t serious about the painting or he was doing what innumerable men have done for hundreds of years–trying to avoid confrontation with another man by sending a message via a woman.  

In either case, I wasn’t about to play the game.  I realized that I was doing all I could to care for a baby and to keep the inside of my house clean.  It was not then my job to worry about fresh paint on the outside of the house and I was not about to make it my job, even to relay a message that may or may not have been well-received.  

It was freeing to realize Noel’s image did not belong to me and I was not responsible to maintain it.  I had gotten off on the wrong foot that first year and a half of marriage.  I might have turned into a huge control freak with Noel if my friend had not intervened when she did (even without being conscious, as she did it, that she was modeling appropriate Christian marital behavior to me!).   

Please, young friends, do not edit each other’s words and image . . . it shows an idolatry of the heart far worse than anything you are trying to cover up in your spouse’s life.  

Be that refreshing well of water for his soul.  The one who points him to God as his primary relationship!  In so doing, you will become the most valuable spouse you could ever be.

Just a Thought on Idols . . .

10 Dec

I John 5:21, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”

We assume that others want to get rid of their idols.  We assume that we want to get rid of ours, too.

For many reasons, that may not always be an accurate assumption.

Sometimes our idols are propping up another part of our life, a part we are trying to live independently of God.

Sometimes our idols have been in our life longer than God has and we have not identified them as idols because they are so familiar to us we can’t see the connection.  

Sometimes we even have habits we know are not pure but they are so familiar we can’t believe they could possibly be an idol.  

They can.

When we are ready to be serious with God, He will show us our idols, one by one.   

A Tale of Two Forgivenesses

7 Dec

Isaiah 44:20,  “He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, [Is there] not a lie in my right hand?”

This has always been my favorite verse for teaching on idolatry of the heart, and the self-deception we all have.

The only hope for all of us is to cry out, often, to our merciful Saviour to spare us from ourselves.  He will answer that prayer.  But we have to be prepared to “live in the light” He gives us and to confront and actively put to death those parts of ourselves that live in rebellion against Him.  He will show us where they are.  We need to make them die.

One area that I have lived long enough to see multiple times is the area of strained relationships within a church or parachurch organization.  We like to say that Satan targets churches (and para-churches) in order to destroy Christian unity.  But so often we have no idea what Christian unity looks like and couldn’t build it if we tried.  His Word tells us what it is, but we ignore His Word, to our detriment.

And our flesh gets in the way, oh so badly gets in the way.  An older friend of mine once joked “Satan could sit in his bathtub drinking a mai tai and I would still have issues because my flesh is a greater enemy to me than he is.”

She was right about almost all of us, and very wise to say so!

An example I will give, building a composite from various situations I have seen, so not picking on any particular person or place, is the example of Christian forgiveness.

Let’s say that Person A and Person B, ministering together in a church, have reached such an impasse that they have to do a Paul and Barnabas act and split up.  Maybe they both leave the original church and go on to two different ministries.

Person A forgives Person B from his heart and, after expressing that he will pray for him and his new ministry, goes on, with not a word to anyone else.  Oh, his wife knows the details and a few close friends probably can figure them out because they have walked in on conversations inopportunely in the past.  They have put the pieces together in their own minds as the months have gone by.  But this person keeps his silence, regarding forgiveness of private things as a private matter.

Person B, on the other hand, also expresses forgiveness when with Person A.  However, he keeps rehearsing his issues with Person A to anyone who will listen, as the months, and then years roll by.

In fact, he often couches his discussions with, “I forgave this person but he ripped my heart out and I can never get past that” sorts of remarks.

See what he is doing?  He is:

A) making private matters of forgiveness public.

B) using the old saying “I can forgive but I can’t ever get over the hurt” (which is, technically, not Biblical forgiveness at all).  There is a principle that the more you talk about something, the harder it is to get over that thing, so much of what we claim we cannot get past are things we will not get past.  In fact, if we are totally honest about that saying, it enshrines our emotions as god, by saying that we are trapped forever by an emotional response we had to that person in the past.  God says, very simply, we are to forgive others because He forgave us for a whole lot more than we need to forgive in others.  That is at once the easiest thing to say and hardest thing to do, but He says we must do it.

C) painting himself as the righteous one in the scenario, by saying over and over again that he forgave things that occurred to him.  Person A forgave, too (and actually exercised his forgiveness in a Biblical way) but, if we are not careful, we can start suspecting Person A of evil because we never heard his side of the story.  The Bible says it is easy to side with the first person who talks to us about a situation (particularly if we never hear the other side).

D) being a drama queen.  Using phrases like “ripped my heart out” or “hurt me so deeply I can never forget” gives us no idea of what Person B himself did in the scenario.  He may have done even worse things, but he is not mentioning those.

We all want to be like King David’s son Absalom and gather a crowd of people around us when we are in conflict.  We want people who will side with us.  But when we feed our fleshly nature that way by making conflict a popularity contest, we cut off the possibility of hearing or knowing the other half of the story.  And we guarantee that we remain blind and deluded.

God is so good that He will offer us chance after chance to get this right.  If we have blown off one relationship this way, He will bring us other strained relationships, and then more after that, until we pass the test and treat these relationships Biblically.

You see, the thing is that usually the people involved in strained relationships within a church are truly Christians.  They may get nasty with each other and accuse each other of not being truly saved, but usually they are.

They just would rather feed their flesh, feed on ashes.  They would rather indulge their need to be right than follow the clear words of Scripture about what to do when relationships are strained.

May we stop doing that!

Pushing Back, Part VI (a new series for Thanksgiving week)

22 Nov

Ephesians 5:11-13, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.  For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.  But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light:  for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.”

When our hearts, normal but sinful, betray us:  As a P.S. to yesterday’s post, I want to make it clear that I do not believe all conflict within the church is based on mental illness.  Some of  it is.  Maybe 10%, if I can make an estimate.  And that is if you include the people with a family history of things with which they themselves are not personally diagnosed.  They may have at least a tendency to not see the world accurately, both due to their genetics and due to the fact that they were raised around mental illness.

I have a holy awe for that situation myself, as I had a grandmother whom I never met who was diagnosed with mental illness several times in her life.  I keep my heart supple before God on this issue, realizing that, there but for the grace of God go I.  If I don’t stay in His Word, I could find myself believing some of the same lies I was told were a problem for my grandmother.

However, I believe that most conflict in the church is just caused by our sinful hearts that want their own way.

And I have seen that conflict become more insistent over the decades, as the world descends toward chaos and we follow behind the world in its descent by about ten years (I attribute that statistic to our former associate pastor, Tim Bell).

I have seen quiet whisperings within the Body of Christ (which were harmful enough, back in the day) become outright hostile confrontations in hallways.  And I have seen conversations about a person who is not present that express total contempt for that person.

I hate that.  But, more than that, I know it grieves the Holy Spirit of God.

When we are in conflict, the Bible makes our goal to be restoration.  Not contemptuous dismissal of the other person.  Restoration.

If we are not seeking restoration, humbly and with a willingness to forgive and work through difficulties, we are out of line.

That just has to be said.

We all sin and we all want our own way.  But we need to realize that about ourselves and not make an idol of our own way.

We worship God.  If we raise insistence on having our own way into the thing we worship, we will eventually become our own god.

Scary stuff, that.

I Get It Now!

9 Nov

I think I finally understand, at least a bit, about the re-election of Barack Obama by those who say he promised hope and change, which they believe is still forthcoming.

For my money, he had four years to show us the hope and change and it did not happen. Why not try something else?

Yet, I had forgotten that the last two presidents got eight years. Bill Clinton, with his impeachment. George W. Bush with his unpopular two-front war. Seems like everyone gets a second chance now. Even Barack Obama, who seems to embody the possibility of “potential” without ever becoming “actual.”

Our younger generations prize fairness a lot. I believe many of them thought that, as long as he did not have a scandal and did not get trapped in his words on any occasion, the president should be given the benefit of the doubt and be returned to office. Remember, we have raised these kids on the lowered expectations of getting the crumbs left over once we baby boomers have already been at the table.

Not to imply that our president is a crumb!

Just saying that my generation tends to be more results oriented, willing to fire someone more quickly for not living up to the resume we were given. Our children and grandchildren tend to understand more about why people don’t always match their resumes, and to be more merciful when that happens.

Okay, I get that.

And also that nothing can happen these eight years that cannot be reversed later.

Even health care. Because, admit it, no one in America has yet read and comprehended all 2000
pages of that legislation. And some of it, like not making people uninsurable once they get sick, is only right, regardless of party affiliation.

So I am okay with the president getting another four years to try to work his magic. Then history will judge him, as it will all of us.

I would have preferred another outcome. I fear we are in for quite a ride, economically.

But, God is and always will be still on His throne. And no event on earth can change that!

Living in God’s Freedom

4 Nov

Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

 

Earlier this week I wrote about intentional living and about the immense freedom Christ gives each of us to make choices for our own lives.

 

Today I want to address that group of Christians who don’t choose to be free.

 

It is an irony of opening a bird’s cage when we see that the bird doesn’t always choose to leave the cage.  It is an irony of the freedom Christ brings us when we see that not everyone in Christ chooses to be free.

 

Past lives can be complicated.  It can be hard work breaking free of limitations others have put on us or we have put on ourselves.

 

One danger those of us who choose to live intentionally can find is the danger to have other people in our lives who don’t choose to live intentionally and who want to make us responsible for their choices.

 

It might be a spouse or a child or a sibling.  It might be a friend.

 

But what it is not is a healthy relationship before God.

 

God made each of us responsible.  Yes, we do influence each other, and we need great wisdom about that.  But no one is totally responsible for someone else’s life.

 

The secular world calls that kind of relationship “codependent” or “enmeshed.”  We need to have our eyes wide open to the fact that God calls it idolatry.

 

When someone totally gets his or her identity and meaning from another person, that person has replaced Christ in his or her life.

 

Also, it is not healthy for the person who is given that much responsibility for another human being.

 

Can you really imagine God saying, in His judgment someday, “Okay, I realize that Woman A totally abdicated her freedom of  choice to Man A, so I am going to judge Man A for the way both of their lives turned out?”  No, that won’t happen.  Husbands, it is true, will be held accountable for their headship of the wife and of the family.  But they will not be judged for decisions their wives and children should have made for themselves.

 

We can’t pawn our freedom of choice off on another person.  And no else can foist his or her freedom of choice onto us.

We are all free to choose before God.  Even if we think we are not.

 

We will judged someday based on reality.  Not on what we thought was true.

 

Spending an entire life paralyzed by our past is one thing.  That, too, is a choice we can make.  But thinking that makes someone else totally responsible to live our life for us and make our choices for us is quite another thing.

 

God won’t allow that kind of idolatry to happen.

Entitlement Mentality (not me, Lord! Right???)

4 Oct

Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

The word “entitlement” has been overused so much lately that it is almost meaningless at this point.

I hear older people use it to criticize the young. I hear Republicans use it to criticize Democrats; Democrats to criticize Republicans. I hear middle class people use it to criticize the poor who receive money from federal poverty programs. I hear other middle class people use it to criticize the rich who receive tax breaks for their businesses.

It is almost always used to criticize someone else, not the speaker himself.

I have taken to asking myself if I have an entitlement mentality. I have concluded that I do. But, wait, before you gloat, ask yourself whether you do also. I am convinced that most people, unless they were treated horridly by parents or peers in their formative years, have entitlement mentality issues just like me.

We believe we are entitled to a smooth ride in life and anyone who disrupts our “flow of traffic” can earn negative attention for that action!!! No, not the type of attention where we actually confront the person in anger–most Christians, followers of other faiths, and atheists I know pride themselves on being far too nice to openly confront someone. Oh, no, we do it with our eyes, with little suppressed smiles that tip a person off that we are secretly laughing at him, with “coded” comments that sound so nice on the surface but somehow leave a person feeling deflated . . . the thousand little tricks that otherwise “nice” people use to get hostile with others who get in their way!

Here are a few examples:
(1) Is it hard to be genuinely nice to the person who only calls when she wants something from you? That is probably because we feel “entitled” to two-way relationships in this world. It is hard for us to comprehend that some people are not, by nature, givers.

Some of the “takers” were the folks who were treated horridly as a child–they have never developed a “reservoir of good will” from which to relate to others. They may spend their entire lives as “takers.” We have got to be okay with that. We don’t always need to be the ones giving to them, but we have got to be okay with their identity as “takers” and just accept it.

Jesus Christ was okay with the fact that the whole human race was a group of “takers” in relationship to Him and His sacrifice for us. We have got to be willing to follow His example sometimes.

That is not to say that we are never called to teach other people to respond in Biblical ways. It is just to say that we will meet many, many people in this life who will not be our students . . . In my Navy career, I have probably met over 10,000 people. And I have probably been called to teach Bible truth, in classes or one-on-one, to only about 500 of those.

With the rest, I have to be willing to let it go if they behave toward me in a “taker” mode. After all, God was willing, for Christ’s sake, to let it go when I did that to Him!

(2) Is it hard to not get your dander up when someone waits till the last minute to cut into that off-ramp or tunnel lane you are in? It is for me. I am working on teaching myself to automatically assume someone will either be in the wrong lane due to being lost (a tourist) or due to thinking he is far more important than I am and shouldn’t have to wait in a lane like I have been (his own entitlement mentality). I have been proactively waving the first person in the wrong lane into the lane ahead of me.

Notice, I did not say I stop and let all ten people who are in the wrong lane in. But it is not going to hurt me to let in one person. It might even help me to have less of an entitlement mentality, which, in this case, assumes that I am entitled to make every exit without slowing down for anyone!

(3) Is it frustrating to shop in a busy store when you see people moving slowly down the very center of an aisle, with a cart, so no one can pass them in either direction? I used to mentally call those people “water buffalo” because they meander about just as aimlessly as a buffalo at a water hole, while all around them people are trying to get in and get out of the store on a schedule.

However, once again, my whole attitude reveals the fact that I have an immense entitlement mentality about not having to wait for slow or indecisive people in any venue I enter. That is just not Biblical. Some of these folks may be going slowly due to physical or mental disabilities. I should be thanking God for my strong body and mind that enable me to “nip in and out of a store in ten minutes or less” rather than resenting the people who can’t, even if they are oblivious to the presence of others and stand right in their way when they could share space more cooperatively.

My final exam on overcoming my entitlement mentality will probably someday consist of a rerun of the most ridiculous “water buffalo” scenario I ever saw. A woman with a cart full of groceries and about ten people behind her was exiting a Walmart.  She stopped in the very door to pick up her cell phone and dial a call!!! It took at least one minute for someone to get her attention and get her to step out of the doorway to complete the call. I wasn’t mean to her but I am sure my eyes told a different story . . . (and I was laughing at her as well, because I simply couldn’t believe anyone could be that oblivious to her fellow shoppers!).

I have met my entitlement mentality and, no, it isn’t pretty.

Thoughts on idols (icons that might need to be smashed just to show that God is all in all)

29 Sep

I John 5:21, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.  Amen.”

This is from a note I wrote to a friend today (Disclaimer:  I promised, when I started Iconobaptist, that I would never smash someone else’s icon/idol, and I abide by that promise.  If this post makes you think about smashing one of your own, well, that is between God and you!):

The older I get, the more I am fixated by watching people’s faces.  And the more I become aware of how fragile we all are, even in Christ, and how little it takes to hurt someone else and how hard it is to look at someone’s face when someone has just hurt that person.

I find myself pulled in two directions.  There is the need to speak truth about theology.  A lot of theology is mushy or downright scary.

But people identify themselves with their theology and therein lies a problem.  If somebody has spent years clinging to something and defending it, they may find it feels like part of their identity.  And if we oppose it, they may feel their very essence is being opposed.

That is in their perception, but it is there.

You may see where I am getting to with this.

I am seeing, wherever I go, that Christians are very similar in defending the extrabiblical traditions of their particular branch of Christianity, no matter where they worship.

We all have found idols that need to be replaced by God’s good grace in our lives.

In fact, since there is no perfect denomination or church, I would dare say that every single Christian on this planet has some man-made doctrine they are defending as though it is in the Holy Scriptures.

One blogger I read said that, if we can’t identify such a doctrine in our lives, it is only because we have not formally written down our denominational infrastructure in order to objectively examine it.

Try changing the offering at a Baptist church.  Make it an ATM at the exits where people can transfer funds to the church rather than throwing an envelope into a plate.

I’ll bet that would get a howl of outrage.  Why? Did God tell us in the Bible we have to pass an offering plate?

In fact, I love the offering plate, but I acknowledge it is a man-made tradition.

That is why we need to write Iconobaptist.  Too many good people have not thought through their cherished icons.  And thus they become idols.  For all of us.

What is Essential . . . (things we think when facing job loss)

12 Sep

“Perish every fond ambition,

All I’ve sought or hoped and known,

Yet how rich is my condition

God and Heaven are still my own.”

(from “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken,”  hymn by Henry F. Lyte)

We all have areas of our lives where we fear loss; often that loss is related to our job.  Most of us, even those who have spent years in unpaid work with our children and our home, derive an inordinate amount of our identity from our paid employment.

Since our ability to work and our employment is a gift from God, the desire to do well in that area is also God-given.  However, incessant  insecurity about our job or an inordinate concern about keeping it, to the extent that we would compromise God’s Word to do so, are not godly impulses.  In fact, they can be signs of an idolatrous heart.

As the Presbyterians say, we sometimes need to preach ourselves a sermon.  When I find myself insecure in any area, including the area of employment, I strive to do just that!

I recently realized once again, while preparing for the periodic interviews done to re-establish my eligibility for a security clearance, that my well-paying job is totally dependent on that clearance.  I have had a clearance for thirty years now, but rules recently changed requiring me to not only disclose any foreign holdings that I currently have but to disclose any I have ever had in the past (including some British stocks I held so short-term that they never needed to be reported before) and, worst of all, to disclose my husband’s foreign holdings, not only now, but for his entire life.  My British husband owned two homes before he ever met me and a third one from right about the time we met.  We needed to disclose for each of these properties the prices when he bought them and when he sold them.  Since most people don’t keep their income tax forms for more than ten years, two of the three houses were total estimates on our part.

As I filled out the forms, I worried about the current crop of bureaucrats in this country who sometimes seem to use very little common sense.  I have heard of people being nit-picked in the area of a clearance, all by agents who probably don’t realize or don’t care that taking a person’s clearance after thirty years would be the same as taking her livelihood.  All the skills most military officers acquire in a career can be utilized very little, if at all, in an unclassified work environment.

When it came time to have my interview, I was astonished to walk into our library on base and recognize my interviewer, a man who got his doctorate at our church’s seminary a decade ago.  This showed me God was still clearly in control of my livelihood.

However, the agent has finished my clearance and turned it in for adjudication.  And . . . I wait, praying every day that God will see fit to let me keep my clearance and the job I love.

As I ponder my attitude, I sense the need to preach myself a sermon and keep preaching it!  God is sovereign, never taken by surprise by anything in our lives.  If I did lose my clearance, life as I know it would not come to an end.  As our pastor says, God doesn’t usually take an active person and sideline her completely.  There is always a “next phase” that He has for us, until we are dead.

Even old people in retirement homes, totally unable to move or with memory disorders, are able to witness for their Lord in a myriad of ways.

I remember hearing of my friend’s mother, Mary Fanning, who worked for years with Operation Blessing before developing  Alzheimers, telling everyone at  her retirement home that her friend was coming to get her and they would go on door-to-door visitation to try to win people to the Lord!  What a great way to go through Alzheimers!

We exist to glorify God and to love Him forever, as the old catechism says.  Anything else on top of that is gravy.  I have God, I have heaven.  I am rich in every way that counts.  And so are you!

P.S.  I found out after writing this post last Christmastime that my security clearance was renewed another five years, as scheduled.  We live from clearance to clearance in the Navy, which teaches me to rely on the Lord even more!  Amen!

It Takes Time (Why the Process of Training our Children Matters)

27 Aug

It Takes Time

Psalm 12:6:  “The wordsof the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.”

This verse has often been used to explain how ancient silversmiths refined their silver, heating it at least seven times till no more impurities could be found in it.  The criteria for knowing when the silver was fully refined was when the silversmith could see his face reflecting in the surface of the liquid silver.  The example also lends itself to the process God uses with refining our lives, as living souls who are more precious to Him than silver.   He keeps patiently working with us, seven times or more per each lesson He wants to teach us, until we finally get it, until He finally begins to see the face of Jesus Christ reflecting back from the surface of our lives.

A modern way to explain the process of slowly training another person is called “hand over hand.”  As the mother of a special needs child, I am very familiar with this process, although it is not unique to training special needs children.  It consists in showing a child how to write, use scissors, color, do a zipper, etc. by putting your own adult hand over his or her little hand and completing the action with the child.  The act may need to be repeated again and again until the child learns.  Probably more than seven times!

One problem with people in our time-starved society today is that we have begun to believe that shortcuts are preferable to processes that require many steps and much repetition.  God seems to have set repetition up as a principle for learning, not for the sake of repetition itself, but for the sake of the interaction it takes to train children (and other people) that way.  And we want none of it.  We don’t regard such repetition as efficient.  And, truth be known, at heart we don’t regard it as worth our time to repeat the same instruction over and over as someone slowly learns.

Isn’t that funny?  God will go over and over the same material with us, for a lifetime if necessary, to help us get it, while we consider ourselves above doing all that in the life of someone else, even in the life of our own child.

My husband isn’t unique in this, so this is not singling him out in any negative way, but he recently saw an infomercial about a learning method that supposedly patterns the brain efficiently within several weeks.  It was only $100 and he sincerely wanted to try it, to increase our son’s chances of retaining material more quickly.  What he had forgotten about was how many such methods I had seized upon in my early years of homeschooling a child with autism.  If there had been a “miracle” learning method for autism, I would have found it back then.  And, truly, there are thousands of methods that claim to be that miracle, but I have long ago given up on spending $100 for each of them (and the time invested in learning that it is just another learning method, with some good and some bad aspects, like everything else in education).

No, I have not given up on educating our son, but have just realized that it is a long learning curve.  It is a long learning curve for children without autism, too.  Why would I have it any easier?

And why would God make it any easier, so we could teach our children something once, then go on autopilot and leave them alone in that area?  Isn’t it good to spend teaching and learning time together?  I think it is.

Look at the three years Jesus spent with His disciples.  Even when He sent them out by themselves in pairs, they came back rejoicing that demons were subject to them.  Was that what He sent them out to learn?  Or did He mean for them to learn that He was all in all?

In His very last week, the disciples rejoiced to see Him welcomed as a conquering king to Jerusalem.  In the very last week He had with them before He went to the cross!  He was teaching living through dying and they were understanding the lesson to be about conquering the Romans.  Yet, He never gave up on them.  He gently loved them into the men He knew they could become, by way of the Holy Spirit.

As teachers, we are to be like Him.  Never giving up, never thinking of our role as thankless, never flailing about for a shortcut to get those students out of our hair!!!  It is worth it to God to persevere with us; it is well worthwhile for us to persevere with our students, too.

My Idols are Better than Your Idols

13 Aug

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqTq8gckf8E

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.  Amen.”  I John 5:21

This post is dedicated to a friend who will recognize a conversation we had not long ago about the idolatry of a modern song that is attracting some of the emergent church/edgy/trendy Christians.  The song has the message “I will die for my own sins, thank You very much!”

My friend and I understood that the song was meant to be a shocker to those of us who are slightly older.  She was vastly offended by it.  I was trying to think how to wrap my mind (and heart) around this song, something so foreign to any experience I have had or even thought to have.  I wanted to try to understand why it would attract any person, let alone a believer in Jesus Christ.

It is so easy for me to see that this is Generation Y idolatry, pure and simple.  I am not defending the song.  It truly sounds shocking.  I haven’t heard it and I don’t plan to go looking for it on Youtube.

Yet, in God’s economy, that night I was ironing and turned on one of those satellite stations that plays whatever genre you want to hear at the moment.  I put it on ’70’s songs, the music I listened to in college (I went to a state university).

The song in the above link came up and I nearly dropped my iron.  What an amazing thing.  That song . . . I loved it when it was out.  So . . . let’s get this straight.  In December of 1979, I was listening to a song that suggested that a man and a woman could be born again in each other’s love?

Not exactly Christian thought there.  More like pagan.  More like the fertility cults of Baal and Ashtoreth in the Old Testament, truth be known.  Wow!

Why is it so easy to love our own idols and to explain them away, while condemning the idols of another group or generation?  I love how God will not let us off the hook of answering that question!

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