Thursday, October 31, 2013

Life is Fleeting and Fragile....Treat it That Way

Psalm 39:4

“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.

Remind me that my days are numbered—

how fleeting my life is.

No matter how many tragedies, or near tragedies happen, it seems that we will never remember how fleeting and fragile life really is. When a loved one dies, or nearly dies, we remember to hug our children tighter, give our spouses more meaningful, and less dutiful kisses goodbye in the morning. We make more effort to let people know how much we love them. But that is just as fleeting as the life we live. When I received a call that someone whom I love so very dearly is in the hospital in critical condition, and I remember that the conversation I was having was about how a certain picture makes my pores and oil more visible. And I think, SERIOUSLY? Was that my biggest concern yesterday? My less than perfect complexion!! Now, I know that in this life, we have many worries and concerns, all big and small. But maybe we really need to get those worries and concerns in check. Should I really be worried about my face? Or would my worry be better spent on the less than beautiful condition of my heart, or wondering how I can make the best of the time God has given me, and make the most out of every opportunity God gives me to touch some one's life?

Can we ever be so kingdom minded that we do not need to lose, or nearly lose a loved one to love more extravagantly? If something were to happen to me tomorrow, would those close to me know how much I loved them, how much I loved God? Would there be enough evidence in my life that they could say without a shadow of a doubt that I would be in heaven, and not just saying that to give themselves some comfort? Can we ever, without being reminded by tragedy, remember how fleeting life really is, that we have no idea how much longer we will be around on this earth, and the purpose for which we have been placed here? We have been created in the image of God, to be a reflection of him, to be a light in this dark world, to show others the love of Christ which they so desperately need, to point them to our savior. The things that we let bother us are really stupid sometimes. Instead of making a rude comment to someone who is blocking the aisle at the grocery store, show them the love of Christ. Certainly Christ would not make some rude comment about how rude they are blocking the aisle. Instead of glaring at someone who cuts you off in traffic, realize that maybe they are in a hurry, or maybe the concerns in their heart are so big that they just weren't paying attention. Pray for them. We take our family for granted. We get irritated that they didn't clean up after themselves. Or we get angry because they refuse to do things the way we think they should do it. Instead, we should realize how blessed we are to have a family of little mess makers (and big ones too haha) to clean up after, and lovingly teach them the responsibility they need to learn. Forgive those who have wronged you. Let them know they are forgiven, and treat them as though they are forgiven.

Just be different. See people with the eyes of our loving, compassionate savior, who even though he had every right, never judged anyone, but rather loved them, and healed them, forgave them of their sins, and even died for them.

My prayer today is that all of God's people will live a more kingdom focused life. Not a life being lived to gratify the desires of our sinful nature, but a life that is yielded to God, and a desire to seek his will for our lives, not our own. We say we will get better tomorrow, but tomorrow is not promised, to anyone. No matter how healthy you eat, no matter how often you go to the Doctor for physicals, no matter how godly you are, no matter how much you pray for health and protection over your life. We are not in control.

Choose this day whom you will serve .....But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15) , was not meant to just be words on a wall piece for our homes, but a declaration of who is the Lord of our lives. This scripture is talking about those who choose to serve other gods rather than the living, Almighty God. But we can easily insert those who choose to serve self, family, work, sinful desires, etc.

CHOOSE THIS DAY WHOM YOU WILL SERVE. You might not have the choice tomorrow.


Monday, October 7, 2013

The Family Cookie

I actually had a parenting "win" today. If you are reading this and don't know what that means, it means that for once I feel like I did something right. I planned on making 3 ingredient pumpkin cookies today, and as I was getting the ingredients out, it came to me. My kids have been fighting non stop, acting up, talking back. Its been awful. I have been praying for God to show me some creative ways to deal with this, because nothing I was doing was working. And as I looked at the 3 ingredients on the counter,this is what came to me:
3 kids, 3 ingredients. It was the perfect fun teaching opportunity. And I want to share it with you.

The ingredients:

Each kid got one ingredient. How you choose may depend on your family situation. You could let the oldest choose first to teach that the oldest child sometimes gets more privileges. I needed to teach my oldest child that he has more responsibility and that it is harder being the oldest, so I assigned him pumpkin and randomly handed out the other two ingredients.

The reason I gave him the pumpkin is because that is the ingredient that takes the most strength and the most work.  Being the oldest child is not an easy job, but it is such an important role.

Angelina had the cake mix.  She added it, and Ryan asked if he could mix them together.  So, I let him.

it was simple enough, but he needed some help, so I had Angelina hold the bowl while he held the mixer

I used that as an opportunity to teach them that even though Ryan is the oldest and has more responsibility, he needs help too.

Now for the sweet part, the chocolate chips.  Before we added the chocolate chips, I used some of the mix without it to make 3 cookies.

As we added each ingredient, I was asking the kids questions like, "Would the cookies come out right if we left out an ingredient?" 

We put the cookies in the oven set on 350* for about 10 mins.  While they baked, we sat at the table and talked.

I was telling the kids that our family is like a cookie (which is where we came up with the silly name "family cookie").  Each one of us plays a very important part in our family, even though we are all very different.  We talked further about the importance of using every ingredient.  Although they did pick up on the fact that the chocolate chips are not needed, but they sure do make them taste better.  If we used pumpkin without cake mix, it wouldn't work, and vice versa.  In order for our cookie (family) to be a good one, we have to work together.

Then I asked them a silly question, "If the ingredients had feelings, would it have hurt while they were being mixed together?"  I had to really allow myself to be silly at this point, because I was trying to have serious conversation with my kids, and they were having a lot of fun which was driving me crazy.  Then quickly remembered my audience.  And I explained to them that the mixer is like discipline.  Being disciplined is not fun, but in order for us to "come out right" it is necessary.  If we put all of the ingredients in the bowl and did not mix them, they would not be very good cookies. Without discipline we would all be a big mess.

We prayed together about being a family that works together and helps eachother, and they went off and played.  I tried to take up the 10 minutes with talking, but it didn't last that long...maybe 5. 

When the cookies were done and cooled enough to eat, I called them back to the table.  I gave them each two cookies.  One without and one with chocolate chips.  I told them to eat the one without first.  They all thought it was yummy, but they couldn't wait to get to the one with chocolate.

I used this example to show how we all do things together.  Ryan did NOT want to make cookies with us when I told them that was what we were doing.  Angelina and Tyler did.  But Ryan had a lot of fun with us.  So, I asked them if the cookies would have come out as good if Ryan didn't help.  Obviously we did not need him to make the cookies, but it sure was more fun with him there with us. We make eachother's lives sweeter.

When I started this, I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to say, but I knew the point I was trying to make. So, words just came to me as we were doing our thing. And it was so much fun. When Ralph came home and I was asking the kids to explain to daddy what we had learned, all they could remember was "We made cookies!" Real nice. But I think they learned more than they will ever let on ;)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

We Are Free Indeed

I conducted a poll on Facebook today, The question I asked was “Do you feel your religious freedom is being stripped away?” And here are the results:
I am no mathematician, so I am sure the statistics are not correct, but Out of 306 face book friends, 10 friends answered the question, and only 1 out of 10 of these friends feels like their religious freedom is being stripped away. I was shocked by that to be honest. Though some of those who answered gave the answer I expected, and quite honestly I was disappointed that only 10 of my friends answered my question. So, I almost decided not to write this post because the results of my poll were not as expected. But I still feel very strongly about this, and I am sure many of my friends who did not answer would have answered yes. While I was typing this article, 2 more “yes” votes came in.

We see in the news more and more that Christians are being persecuted for their faith. Businesses are being boycotted because of their moral views. We are being told to keep quiet about our faith in our jobs, in schools, etc. It feels like very soon, being a Christian might just be illegal. But let me ask you this: Where does our freedom come from?

John 8:36
So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.

I want to remind you of a story you might have grown up hearing in Bible class. It should probably be the topic of many sermons these days. It is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego. If you have kids, you might also know them as Rack, Shack , and Benny, thanks to VeggiTales! These young men were taken as captives in Babylon. You can find this story in the first three chapters of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar had a gold statue built and ordered that everyone must bow down and worship his statue, and not to the Lord, or they would be thrown into the fiery furnace. IT WAS THE LAW!! But Rack, Shack, and Benny refused to bow down and worship any god but their own, and were thrown into the blazing furnace. Daniel did the same thing, and was thrown into a den of starving lions. None of them died. Their obedience to God over the government they were under proved them to be faithful followers and he rescued them.

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. Proverbs 29:25

Friends, it may seem like our religious freedoms are being taken away from us, but they are not. No one can take your faith away from you. You just have to ask yourself, “Do I serve God, or do I serve man?” Our government, or anyone who does not believe what we believe might be able to make it less easy to be vocal about our faith, but until they can take my voice away, they can not take my freedom away.

Do we want to be persecuted? Of course not, but we are not going through anything we have not been warned about in scripture:

Matthew 5:10-13
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

John 15:18-35
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

We have been too comfortable, living in a place where we could have open faith, and I fear that it has created a bit of complacency (for lack of a better word), maybe even flippancy in us. We can talk about God, and post our nice little “look at me, I’m a Christian” things on Facebook. But I wonder, now that things are getting a little tougher, persecution is getting a little more serious than just being made fun of, how many people who call themselves committed Christians, can see it all the way through to the end. Will we be like Peter who says, “I will not leave you, even if I have to die” and turns around and denies his best friend when it gets real?

It is time to face facts. It is becoming increasingly less comfortable to be a Christian. It might cause you to lose your job, it might become illegal, it might get you killed. That is something we don’t ever want to think about, but I think it is important. WILL YOU STILL FOLLOW HIM? EVEN TO DEATH? He died for you! We must be very arrogant to think that we would never have to go through the same thing Jesus did. He was not exempt from persecution, why should we be?

Things might be getting very hard soon. Following Christ might just actually require that we make a sacrifice to follow him. Remember when he says, “Deny yourself. Take up your cross and follow me.”? Yeah, he meant that. Remember when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”? Yeah, he was serious. He is just saying that no earthly relationship should ever come before him. You might lose your spouse, or be disowned by your parents. When you decided to follow Jesus and thought you were signing up for a life of comfort, you were wrong. Nothing in scripture tells us that following Christ is easy. If you find it, please share it. Being blessed doesn’t mean that life will be easy.

The whole time I have been writing this, the phrase “gird your loins” has been playing in my mind. I didn’t realize it was actually in the Bible. It is in Job 38 (KJV I think). In other translations, it is saying “Dress for action”, “Stand up like a man!”, or “Brace yourself “
It isn’t easy to follow Christ, and we aren’t told otherwise. We are not misled. Gird your loins, people! Man up! Or put on your big girl panties!

Maybe we are being sifted as wheat.

Luke 22:31-32
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Maybe this is separating those who truly want to follow Christ, and those who want to just go to heaven, but not sacrifice anything to do so. But no matter what the Government mandates as law, and no matter what your employer dictates as acceptable in the workplace, or what is acceptable in school, NO ONE CAN TAKE YOUR FAITH AWAY. No one can stop you from worshipping God. It might hurt a little. But ask Paul and Silas if the threat of jail and death kept them from living for the Lord. They never stopped telling people about the saving grace of God. Not even in prison, and people were converted because of their perseverance.

No one can take away your religious freedom. You can forfeit it. You can give in to the pressure and keep quiet out of fear. But that is your choice. And you can’t blame anyone else. He doesn’t promise us that following him will be easy but he does promise he will never leave us, nor forsake us. He does remind us over and over and over again, “Do not be afraid, I am with you till the end.” Just listen to these promises:

Isaiah 43:1b-3a
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

Hebrews 10:36-39
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,
“In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”
But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

Psalm 31:23-24
Love the Lord, all his faithful people!
The Lord preserves those who are true to him,
but the proud he pays back in full.
Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.

Joshua 1:9
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

There are so many more than just the few I included. But the time is now. You need to decide. Are you going to be hot or cold, because anyone who is lukewarm will be spit out.