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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.

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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.

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