Tuesday, May 31, 2011

21 Days of Prayer Blog

My 21 Days of Prayer for Sons blog

I decided to add a temporary blog so that the group can be made private once we start on June 8th. If you have a son or many sons, please join my group!!! Our boys can be young or old, sweet and still, or spunky and busy! Its only 21 days, so join me!!!

"All of Me" by Matt Hammitt is now on iTunes!!

To learn about the Hammitt family's journey, go to www.bowensheart.com. Watch their video for All of Me and then go to iTunes to download it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Meeting with God

Imagine God calls a meeting with you. After years, maybe even decades of wanting to hear God’s voice, you jump at the chance to sit down with God one on one.  After the usual pleasantries that are exchanged at the beginnings of meetings (God: How’s the back feeling? You: Much Better. God: I know. I healed it. Everyone laughs.), you get down to business.

God pulls out a book with thousands and thousands of pages and lays it on the table (for the tech geeks reading this…cough, George…pretend he pulls up a spreadsheet on his MacBook Pro). He flips several thousand pages in, and shows you the text that explains the details of your birth. He flips backward a few hundred pages and shows you the day that your parents first met. Forward again to their wedding day and you see the vows that they made to each other and their decision to have children. He goes back to a few dozen pages after your birth to your first spanking. Then he cross-references your emotions of that moment  with your mothers guilt and feelings of failure. Back again a thousand pages to a scene where your mom was beaten mercilessly for breaking a family heirloom and she swore she would never hit her own child. Forward again to the scene when you were 17 and you were arrested for vandalizing a bridge, all the result of my mother never again disciplining you when you disobeyed. Again and again, God showed you these progressions of time and events. He showed you the time your boyfriend broke up with you because you wouldn’t give in to his request that night in the back of his car. For many pages afterwards, every event is marked by your feelings of sadness and rejection. You speak up then, “God, why didn’t you help me back then? You knew my heart would be broken, and all because I was trying to be a good girl. Didn’t you care about my happiness?” He just flips forward a dozen pages to a scene between that same boy and another girl. She is crying because she doesn’t know what to do about the pregnancy. He tells her it isn’t his problem and advises her to just take care of it because he has a reputation and a future to protect. So on the next page she walks into a clinic a scared little girl, and walks out a shattered woman who will carry shame and regret the rest of her life.

You look up at God and say “I had no idea that is what you were saving me from. I was so angry at you for not answering my prayers for all that time. I understand.” And this is how the time is spent. Looking through moments of sadness, joy, anger, loneliness, and ignorance and seeing how each time was tied to a series of other moments in your life and in the lives of others. God flips to the middle of the book, to the section headed “The Present.” He shows you where you are in your stage of life, with your career, your community, and your relationships. You put your finger on one conflict in particular. “This,” you say to the Lord Almighty. “Why am I going through this?” He flips back to a poor decision you made years before and you are able to connect it to the long-awaited consequence you now face. “Oh, I see.” You sigh. “So this is what has to happen?” He nods. “I have to accept it then. But could you help me? This is going to be hard and I don’t want to go through it alone.” God puts a hand on your hand and says, “of course.”  You pause a moment and then say, “And could you show me how I can make it right?” He flips forward to the next page and you see exactly how. A few pages more, you see how everything has been made right again.

Next, you come to the page marked “The Future.” You don’t understand why God is allowing you to see this and you aren’t even sure you want to, but curiosity gets the best of you. Besides, you have big dreams for the future. Forgetting that the allknowing God is sitting right beside you, you think a quick prayer.  “Just let my kids be healthy, my marriage strong, my friendships longlasting. I hope he gets that promotion so we can buy that house. Oh and let my sister be healed of her suffering. Amen.” You look at God and you begin. He shows you what will happen next Friday. “My son’s two year checkup?” you ask, with fear in your eyes. You go on to read about how a routine test shows something abnormal. You read about 6 days of doctor visits, procedures and scans that give a prognosis that shatters your heart. Leukemia? God pulls you into his arms and he hugs you. Every emotion races through you now. Confusion…he has always been so healthy. Guilt…its my fault. I should have bought organic foods. I shouldn’t have drank artificial sweetener when I was pregnant. I should have nursed longer. Anger…why him? Why us? Its not fair. Fear…what if he doesn’t make it? I won’t survive if something happens to him. Sadness…I don’t want to see him in pain. “I can’t go through this,” you tell God through your tears. “You will make it through, and I will be there for you every step of the way,” he says, and with one hand he thumbs through the pages.  Slowly, your tears dry up as you see the healing come. You even laugh once as you read about how one time in the hospital, your toddler plays peekaboo with an angel that only he can see. You sigh with relief when you read the words the pediatrician says 18 months from now. “The cancer is gone.” You look up at your heavenly father, “I’m sorry that I don’t trust you. But why do we have to go through this?” The Lord shows you in the book the numerous people that you meet at the hospital. You see that there are some children that don’t survive.  There are families that divorce under the strain of the diagnosis. God shows you how you are able to help those other families. You can see how much more love you show your son through his life. When he wrecks the car on his 18th birthday, you are just relieved he is safe.  You can already feel your heart swell when you read about his first day as a Pediatric Oncologist.

You go through your entire life. For every struggle, pain, circumstance, you are able to see the reason for it and how God uses it in your life and the lives of others. When you return to your life, you are able to walk through every event and see it through God’s eyes. There is no fear because you know how it all turns out in the end.  Its nothing you would have ever asked God for. We ask God for blessing, not pain. But we can understand why it is necessary and we are then able to appreciate God for the ways that he comforts us through those times.

Of course this is not how real life works. If God spelled out the reasons why things happen, it would require no faith from us. We would not spend hours on our knees in prayer. We would not turn to God when things made us feel scared, sad, lonely, and anger.  But if we could just trust that there IS a reason for our circumstances, we can sooner learn what we need to learn, minister to those who lack faith, and love others how the bible commands.

I’m not sure I will ever be strong enough in my faith to ask God to give me difficult circumstances so that I may become more like him or minister to others in a similar place. When George and I first decided to have children, I would not have prayed to have three miscarriages. I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone, especially myself.  I never thought that I would be in this place, but I am thankful that God allowed me to go through that. Of course I miss my three babies terribly and I long for the day when I can sit with them in heaven and finally hold them in my arms. But I’m so glad that I have been able to speak with so many women that I love and help them through their pregnancy loss, even if all I can provide is the knowledge that they are not alone. What I can do, is pray for God’s will to be done on earth, just as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10). And when difficult times come, I know that God will be with me no matter what. As it says in Matthew 28: 20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (italics mine).  Sometimes God gives us insight into why bad things happen to us, even before they are resolved. For me, I believe that God has revealed to me why He has allowed certain things to plague this time of my life.  It doesn’t change the difficulty I experience, but it does give me hope for the future and it helps me to get through the day. If you have asked God for understanding and He has not given it, just “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) and wait patiently. If there is some challenge you are facing that is well beyond what you can handle, take a few minutes to read 2 Chronicles 20:1-30 (see it here ). It is my favorite bible story.
Check out this beautiful song!  Blessings by Laura Story

Join me for 21 Days of Prayer for Sons-starts June 8th!!

21 Days of Prayer for Sons

Are you a mother of boys who often finds herself wanting to waive the white flag in defeat?
Do they drain you, overwhelm you, steal your heart, break your heart and cause you more anxiety than you ever dreamed possible?
Maybe you only have one boy amongst a sea of estrogen and you just can’t figure out how to respond to him in a way that affirms all that is good about his masculinity.
There are so many books out there today on the topic of parenting boys that I can’t count them. Nor do I have time to read them all. But even if I did, reading these books and putting the solid tools in them to work still doesn’t come with guarantees.
Knowing this, it becomes quite clear that there is only one thing we can do…
Plead with God.
“The fervent prayers of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:17.
It’s our hope.http://www.brookemcglothlin.com/warriorprayers/21-days-of-prayer-for-sons/

Monday, May 23, 2011

Binding Words

‘\My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you;  when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you.                                     –Proverbs 6:20-23

Isn’t it amazing the power that words have on us? I think we can all remember one or two statements that people have said to us or about us that shake our very core. I know this verse speaks specifically to the things that our mothers and fathers teach us and it definitely convicts me to teach my sons about whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely,  admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.

This verse speaks specifically on imparting wisdom and truth. For instance, there are many things my lovely mother has taught me. When someone doesn’t have any friends, I should be their friend. Stand up for the people who get made fun of and don’t quite fit in. My mom is the most patient, humble, considerate, and loving person I have ever met, so I could go on and on. My father saw my talent on the soccer field and encouraged me even when I lost my starting Varsity position senior year and sat the bench. My dad also never let me forget how smart I am. The biggest fight I ever had with my dad was when I decided to turn away from a college program that included entrance in medical school, to instead pursue early childhood education and Christian ministry. Whenever someone makes me feel like nothing, I hear his words echo in my mind. The positive, life giving words keep your heart beating, they lead you down the right road, they show up in your dreams and they are the basis for every goal you pursue, and as you face the ups and downs of life they are there to bring healthy perspective. 

 The negative words have the opposite effect.  Praise the Lord that my parents are so wonderful that I couldn’t think of a single thing my mom or dad ever said to me that became a binding around my heart, squeezing the life out of me. That is what negative words do, especially if you are extremely sensitive like me. Like a choke collar on a dog, they fasten around your neck so tightly that you have to go wherever you are led.  The negative words trip you as you walk and lead you astray with skinned knees and a limp. Still fresh as the day they were spoken, they appear in your dreams and echo in your fully awakened mind.

In 6th grade,  I decided to quit band because all the popular kids decided that band was not cool at my school anymore. (Isn’t it funny that I ended up marrying Beavercreek’s best trumpet player ten years later?) Anyway, Mrs. Kiehl told me that I was a quitter and that I would always be a quitter. Since then, I hear her words every time I try to start something. I get discouraged, and give up. A bible study. Training for a marathon. An at-home business. A diet plan. A blog. Last fall, we decided to take William out of karate and his instructor told him in front of the class, “William, if you stop taking karate, that means you are a quitter and you are going to be a quitter your whole life.” My anger raged and it took all the self-control  I had to not get in this man’s face and tell him just what I thought about him. I made sure that William, 5 years old at the time, knew that just because he was no longer doing one activity, it did not mean that he was going to quit at everything he ever tried.

Around those same awkward preteen years, I was told twice that I was “not the pretty one” in the family. This manifested itself is different ways. First I tried to just be a tomboy/athlete.  Then I tried to make up the difference with short skirts and a lot of makeup. In high school I begged my parents for braces until they spent money they didn’t have so my teeth could be perfectly straight. I even faked sleep apnea and went to the hospital for a sleep study so maybe I could get a new nose that didn’t look like it belonged on a 50 year old man (the doctors and my parents didn’t fall for it J).

“You are too serious.” These are the words my first boyfriend used to break up with me when I was 16. “And you know I like [enter the name of my friend who was blonder, thinner, prettier, and my soccer rival], don’t you?” I was devastated. Years later, even as I write this blog, I think, I bet people think I’m too serious. I have to show them how fun I am. As a young life leader, one of my girls stopped speaking to me because “I always want to talk about serious stuff.” More recently I was told that someone didn’t want to be friends with me anymore because I didn’t bring enough joy into their life. Now when I think about my current friendships, my biggest insecurity is “I bet they don’t enjoy being around me. That’s why they declined that invitation. That’s why that person at church doesn’t say hi to me.” Even yesterday, as I sat at my friend’s bridal shower, I looked at all the friends and family showing her how much they love her, and envied her joyful and sunny personality that brightens up every room she is in. Of course, there are times where serious introspection and the ability to feel compassion and empathy are demanded. Where is the balance? This is part of what I call my “To medicate or not to medicate” debate about the purpose of anti-depressants in the life of a Christian. Look for that blog in the near future.

All these words have at times choked me, led me astray, squeezed the very life out of me and my relationships, and stolen precious time away from me. Although I think I will always struggle with these thoughts, God has placed people in my life that help combat these thoughts. People who are gifted in encouragement. When I was 20, God blessed me with a wonderful man who called me “gorgeous” every time he saw me and often told me how lucky he was to be with me. Even now, after 9 years of marriage, he doesn’t mind the baby weight I still carry, the stretch marks, the scar on my neck, or the new wrinkles that appear every day.  He has been there through the nights when my melancholy takes over and no light is visible. Also, I treasure every  moment I get to spend time with my girlfriends from high school. They are a constant encouragement to me and by sharing fun memories, I am reminded of the joyful , happy, and fun side of my personality. I also love spending time with my siblings and my parents because they bring out that zany Sternberg side of me that goes to see Snakes on a Plane on opening night at Austin’s Alamo drafthouse (Snakes!!!).

I am constantly encouraged by contemporary Christian music. For every subject and every insecurity, there are songs that have blessed me.

Fingerprints of God by Stephen Curtis Chapman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-edjsA_-trE

A More Beautiful You- Jonny Diaz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXSkd8apbWM

Of course, the biggest blessings have come straight from the word of God. The bible is full of encouragement.  For every negative word that has been spoken, there are hundreds that contradict it. For every time we are devalued, there are a hundred that show how much we are valued by the creator of the universe. Rather than allowing the words of others direct our life, may His word be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths (Psalm 119:105).

When I feel like I am a quitter, I can look in the bible and learn about perseverance (Hebrew 12:1; Hebrews 10:36; 2 Peter 1:6). Or I learn that I can commit to the Lord whatever I do, and my plans will succeed (Proverbs 16:3). By spending time in prayer, I can discern what God’s will is and what I should even commit myself to before I begin.

When I feel ugly and insecure, I can read 1 Peter 3 and reeducate myself on what the real definition of beauty is. Or I can turn to Psalm 139:13-14 and know that God knit me together exactly how he wanted me to look and his works are wonderful.

When I feel like my conversations, my actions, my facebook status, or even my blog entries should be more lighthearted and filled with more surface-level stuff, I look at stories in the bible where Jesus spent time with people who didn’t always bring him joy.  He spent time teaching, caring for people, serving them, and telling them about why he came.  Paul gave his life to ministry. It was more important that he teach people how to find joy in the salvation they found in God as opposed to the temporary  happiness that the world offers. Why should I be any different? And during those times in life when even joy is difficult to find, I can pray to God and he will restore my joy.

So it’s your turn. Take a few minutes and think of the negative words that have been choking you, tripping you, leading you astray, or stealing time or life away from you. What positive commands, teachings, or words have inspired you to follow the right path and remain with you through the day and night?
And if you dare, think about what things you might have said that echo in someone's head or heart. Doesn't the very idea make you feel sick to your stomach? Like the times I have told my husband that he is a horrible husband because he wasn't able to meet every need of mine. Or when I've slipped and called my child a "bad boy" instead of saying he made a "bad choice." I imagine we can all think of at least one apology we need to make. And are there any positive words you have been waiting to say to someone? Someone might just need that encouragement today, so pick up the phone or stop by and tell them how wonderful you think they are or how much they mean to you. Wouldn't it be great if you could be the voice God choses to speak life into someone? 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Unforgiven, Unrestored

This is a follow-up to my post, “Broken Relationship.” Since posting that, many of my friends have told me their stories of their broken relationships that remain so.  In some cases, the offender’s apologies were ignored or the offender refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, so restoration is impossible. In other cases, apologies were offered, and forgiveness was given, but distrust, fear, or bitterness prevents restoration. Oh, this hurts my heart so much because it is so contrary to what the bible says and the example God gives.  Can you imagine the state we would be in if God told us our sin was too great for Him to forgive and turned his back on us and no amount of sacrifice, legalism, and commandment-following could change his mind? Can you imagine if God forgave us, but refused to acknowledge us in this life or the next? Like when we walk by Him in heaven he just pretended we don’t exist?
I’ll be very candid here. One year ago, my very close friend severed our friendship as the result of miscommunication, unspoken frustration, pain, immaturity, and sin. Any window that I might have had to fix it early on, my selfishness, bitterness, weakness, and fear of being hurt again slammed shut. Because I still have so much love for this person, my poor decisions have haunted me every day since. For months, I did everything in my power to restore the friendship. I prayed. I apologized. I prayed. I begged. I prayed. I emailed. I prayed.  I called. I prayed. I wrote cards. And finally, I prayed.  In that time I read two of the most incredible books. The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom and Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THESE BOOKS! THEY WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE! Corrie ten Boom, a strong Christian at the heart of Holland's underground system for hiding Jews from the Nazis, gave her heart to a boy, Karel, who broke it because he wanted to marry someone with money. This is the advice her wise father gave her:
"Corrie, do you know what hurts so very much? It's love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain.
"There are two things we can do when this happen. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.
"God loves Karel--even more than you do--and if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy. Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way."
I did not know, as I listened to Father's footsteps winding back down the stairs, that he had given me more than the key to his hard moment. I did not know that he had put into my hands the secret that would open far darker rooms than this--places where there was not, on a human level, anything to love at all."
Maybe we were hurt and we feel our heart is not strong enough to forgive them. We can’t take feeling the constant rejection, sadness, pain that comes with being hurt. We want to kill those feelings and erase the good memories that remind us of what has been lost. It is at that point, when we must turn to God! Just when we run out of love and compassion…just  when we think our sadness and pain will consume us, we can think of Lamentations 3:22-23, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” People thought I was crazy when I would say that I love my old friend more now than I ever have, because God has shown me his love for her. Sure it would be easier to curse the name of those who hurt us. To banish the thoughts of them from our minds and kill the memories. However, in Matthew 22: 37-39, Jesus calls us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” We are to love others, and not just the ones who love us back. My precious 6 year old has a great grasp on this verse that we adults would be wise to accept. He said, “So if you don’t love someone, you are only loving God half-way, because they are God’s child and he told us to love them.” Oh, he blesses my heart!
This is the theme in Redeeming Love, which is based on the biblical book of Hosea. Michael Hosea, a humble, God-fearing farmer in 19th century California, relentlessly pursues Sarah, a bitter, angry prostitute to be his wife. Sarah repeatedly runs from him, hurts him, and longs to return to her former life. Again and again, he forgives her, loves her, and brings her back to him, even when those around him advise him to move on and find someone who will love him back. Isn’t this the advice we give? We want to save our loved ones from pain, not advise them to return to a place or relationship where pain is inevitable. I was faced with this dilemma a few weeks ago. I will joyfully accept any pain if it might bring someone else happiness, let them know they are loved, or possibly lead to restoration. For instance in the case of my friend, one of the most painful prayers I have spoken has been the one for God to bless her friendships with other women, so she will have someone to be there for her, the way she used to allow me to be.  But this pain is not something I can force someone else to take on.  My son, William, used to be best friends with my friend’s child.  My son knows about the severed relationship (I’ll never forget the time he saw me crying and told me I should make my friend a pie to fix everything!), and he misses his friend that he hasn’t seen in a year. He wanted to send the child a card so he would know he remembers him. I said that I would leave it up to him if he wanted to send one. My son said, “But what if your friend throws it away and he never sees it?” My heart broke all over again. I said, “she might, but you will never know if that happens. Is it worth that risk if he does see it and it makes him happy?” He said yes.
So, to all my friends, feeling this heartache, I don’t want to advise you to love unconditionally, because it always hurts to love when we are not loved back. But it is what the bible tells us to do, and so that is what I suggest. Spend a lot of time with God, listen to what he says, and obey him when he tells you to do something. If he tells you to call, call. When he convicts you, ask for forgiveness and apologize to the other person. When he places it on your heart to send a card, be obedient that very day. People might think you are crazy and your efforts might not be welcomed. I thought I was crazy. Loyalty has always been my best characteristic in my relationships, but I felt it was a curse during this time. Like in that Faith Hill song, I begged God to just let me let go. It felt so unfair that I always have to remain loyal even when people are not loyal to me. I begged God to tell me I didn't have to love her anymore, but I found that God will never tell you not to love someone, but he might tell you it is time to release your grasp. God repeatedly told me “Not yet. Don’t let go of this friendship yet. Rely on me, listen to me, and don’t let go yet.” So I listened. I may never know why he told me to hold on to something that seemed so hopeless for so long. It was just a few weeks ago that I heard God tell me, “you can let go now. You have done what I’ve told you to do. Here is the peace and rest you have so longed for.” I can’t explain the feeling that I have now and how different it is from the devastation that held me for so long.
To my friends who have yet to forgive someone or you are hesitant to restore the relationship, forgive. Forgive every time you remember the event or conversation that divided you. It is near impossible for us to do this with our own strength. We need to turn to God consistently. People say “I’ll forgive but I won’t forget.” No, we never forget, but with every reminder we can be humbled by the fact that we, too, are sinners and we need God’s redemption as much as anyone else. Could the same thing happen again and could we experience the same pain all over again? Yes, we might. But God will be there to pick us up again.
The benefit of all this is that it brings greater communion between us and God. We suddenly understand how much he loves us. I’ve never been able to identify with the father of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2015:11ff&version=NIV) . I’ve been the unappreciative son who wanders from home looking for something better and I’ve been the faithful but bitter older son who resents his father’s unconditional love for his wayward brother. Now I understand what the father felt when he was watching, waiting for his beloved son to return home to him. And while he was still far away, the waiting father runs to him and doesn’t even give the boy a chance to say his rehearsed apology. He throws his arms around him and rejoices that he has returned. He calls for a huge celebration, for his son has returned to him! He doesn’t hold a grudge, give him sanctions, or ask him to pay him back for what he has taken. The son is welcomed back into a fully  restored relationship with him. This is what I imagine I would do if I ever saw my friend on my doorstep. Oh the joy of that day! I don’t know if it will happen during my time on earth, but I trust that God, the Redeemer, will allow me this moment one day in heaven when no sin is there to separate anymore.
 "I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love."
— Mother Teresa

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Broken Relationship

"The enemy has to leave at the sound of Your great name." -Natalie Grant
Over the past few years, I have unfortunately witnessed and been a part of many broken relationships between people who profess a faith in Jesus. Through my heartache and prayer, this is what I have learned. My hope is that by sharing, others' marriage, friendships, and family relationships might be saved by calling on the name of God.
 Satan tries his hardest to sneak into the greatest of relationships, especially the ones that stand to do the greatest damage to his evil plans by glorifying God the most. Satan rejoices with every divorce, since the bible says that marriage is the greatest example we have of what man's relationship with God should look like. And Satan rejoices whenever two Christian friends end a friendship, especially when it results in sadness, resentment, bitterness, or unforgiveness. He knows the beauty of unconditional love and will stop at nothing to destroy it…nothing save the name of Jesus.
It starts when Satan plants seeds (ie. seeds of doubt, fear, insecurity, annoyance, etc.) in these relationships and if we are not careful to take every thought and every feeling captive and lay it at the feet of God, these seeds become full grown sin. We let jealousy, selfishness, anger, unforgiveness, and bitterness replace the love we feel for the person. These feelings are exactly what we try to avoid in our Christian life, so we take every action we can to stop feeling them. We build up a shell around us so we cannot be affected by them anymore and we turn a cold shoulder to the person we once loved.  We try to carve that person out of our life, quietly so as not to alert God to our intentions. We may even try to distract God by doing longer, more consistent quiet times, serving in ministry more often, or intentionally pouring more into our other relationships. We hope that by painstakingly painting a beautiful portrait of ourselves, God will not see the hole that has been burned in the canvas. What we forget is that God is all-knowing. Not only does he know what is in our heart towards that person, but he knows AND loves that person as well.  The pain we have caused, or continue to cause by turning our back on that person, He hears every night in their prayers.  We pretend their loneliness and their sadness does not exist, but God has seen every tear they have cried. Just as Satan rejoices in this destroyed relationship, God’s anger burns. His anger burns against us for the way we sin against others. His anger burns for us because of the sin that has been committed against us. This is precisely why He sent His son Jesus to die on the cross, paying the penalty for our sin. There is no sin so great for which his blood cannot atone. There is nothing that cannot be forgiven. Once again, we see the beauty of unconditional love; the very thing that Satan sought out to destroy. When we shout the great name of Jesus, Satan has no footing any longer in our relationship. When we say his name, we stand in the shadow of his cross and suddenly no transgression seems too big to forgive. There is no place for Satan in that relationship because God now stands between the two people, just as he stood between David and Jonathan (I Samuel 20: 42).
If there is a relationship in your life that is struggling, dying, or already dead, perhaps God is calling you to lay it down at his feet and proclaim the victory that Jesus has over sin. Perhaps there is a specific sin for which you need to ask forgiveness. If so, get on your knees and pray to God, thanking Him that He sent Jesus so that we can be forgiven for our mistakes. Then, with a penitent heart and God's leading, go to the person you have hurt or who has hurt you, and apologize and commit your efforts to restore the relationship. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Selfish to the Core of Me

During my devotional today, I came to a realization. I am selfish and horribly self-centered. My time in the Bible started out innocently enough with the passage in John 15:4-5, where Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit." I started to think about the kind of fruit I am bearing. Who am I telling about Jesus Christ and all he has done for me and all he can do for everyone else? I'm ashamed to say that this is not a common thought to me throughout my day. When I plan my schedule, I do not do it for my Father's glory, as it says in John 15:8. My day is for my glory. I am a Christian and I spend time with God, in hopes that he will pour blessings out on me. I read the bible and pray so that the choices I make through the power of the Holy Spirit will result in good consequences for me and my family. Honestly, I do not do what I do so that others might come to know God or that His glory will be revealed. I started thinking that maybe this isn't so uncommon in American Christianity, especially among people just like me.
It seems to me that the majority of what we do is based on how we feel or how we want to feel. I first noticed this last week when a good friend asked me if I wanted to bring my kids over for an impromptu playdate. These were my first thoughts. "I have so much to do since I'm going out of town tomorrow. I don't have two hours to waste on a day like this.  I can't because I'll have to get the boys dressed more appropriately and I don't even want to think about trying to wrestle socks and shoes on a toddler and preschooler right now. I'm tired and this just feels like a lot of effort. And I just got to have a girls' night the other day so my cup is already full of warm fuzzies and good conversations, so I don't really NEED a playdate right now." Then I heard, "But what if she needs it?" Ouch. Suddenly many more memories flooded my mind of similar selfish moments where I only cared about myself--how I was feeling and what I wanted/needed. "No, Braden, Mommy is too tired to read you a book. You just look at the pictures. William, you'll have to pray by yourself tonight because I want to take a bath. George I'm going to bed because I don't want to watch Top Gear. Jonathan, I know you need a new diaper but I need to finish up on the computer." How many times have I let a phone call go to voicemail because I don't feel in the mood to talk and have not considered what the caller might feel like or need? How many times have I turned down invitations because I didn't want to be uncomfortable in a setting where I didn't know anyone? How many friendships how I let fade because I wasn't receiving as much joy as I wanted from them or because they took too much effort?
We want to make a difference in this life...as long as it is by our rules and doesn't make us uncomfortable. We even like to do nice things for other people, as long as the return on our investment is enough. We donate as long as we get a tax receipt. We cook a meal for the family with the new baby so when we have a baby, we will be served in return. We buy a gift or send a card so the receiver thinks well of us. We throw our spouse, child, or friend a party so they will appreciate us and love us the way we think we deserve. On a cold day, we volunteer for Habitat for Humanity or serve the homeless at a soup kitchen so we can sleep well at night on our comfy mattresses with our stomachs full and our heater turned up so high that we have to kick off our down comforters so we don't start to sweat.
So this afternoon, I'm mourning all the fruit I could have bore, the people I could have helped, relationships I could have fostered if only I had put aside my own selfish desires, emotions, laziness, needs and opened my eyes to the wants and needs of people around me. I think I'll go read Braden that book now.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Conflicted: Reaction to the death of Bin Laden

This morning I am reminded of my own humanity. Last night at 11, George woke me up with the news that Osama Bin Laden was killed by US forces. Immediately my heart leapt for joy and I started talking. To be honest, I don't remember a word I said. It will be interesting to hear that from George later, because I'm sure it was my flesh, my humanity talking. The part of me that was terrified the morning of September 11, 2001, wondering if every city in our country was being attacked; wondering if everyone I loved was safe; gasping in horror as I watched the first tower, and then the second tower fall. The part of me that wept in my office as they read the names of the civilians killed and the heroes fallen on the one year anniversary. The part of me that rallied behind President Bush when he promised to hunt down those responsible. The part of me that was so angry with every tape released of Bin Laden speaking such evil and using it as propaganda for more people to hate our country and committ terrorist acts against us. I hated him. I hated those who follow him. And now, I hate myself for feeling joy during this time.
Joy is a good feeling when it comes after a prayer is answered. Oh how my heart leapt when my friend's baby survived his first heart surgery. Joy made my heart grow two sizes the afternoon that I was finally able to hold my baby, William, in my arms after 9 months of anxiety. Joy is what I feel as I lay in bed next to my husband, with my three children safe in their beds, and all is quiet and good. It sickens me that last night I felt that joy at the death of another person.
I believe in God's wrath. I believe that He sits in righteous judgment over all people and his verdict is made known to them when they die. Murder is abhorrent in the sight of God. After the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, it is one of the first acts of sin mentioned in the Bible. Brothers Cain and Abel, the first children of Adam and Eve, worked the land. Abel brought the best of his labor as an offering to God and was blessed. Cain brought an offering too, but he was not blessed, which led to jealousy and anger, and then the murder of his brother. God said in Genesis 4:10, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground." The voice of the blood of 3000 people cries out from the ground, seeking justice, payment for the atrocities of that day. I can only imagine the rage and anger that fills the prayers of all the loved ones. How many prayers has been lifted up begging God to bring this man to justice?
I wonder what God has felt. I want to be careful as I imagine what God might be thinking and feeling. The bible is full of instances where God displays different emotions (wrath, anger, jealousy, love, compassion, sadness) and we assume these are the same emotions we feel since we are made in His image. However, when God feels one of these emotions, it is motivated by his holiness and righteousness. It is not tainted by sin the way our emotions sometimes are.
I believe that God is in mourning right now. God loves each person, unconditionally. From the time he first knits us together in our mother's womb, he loves us and desires to have a relationship with us. God did not love Cain any less after he killed Abel, another child of God. In fact, God has compassion on Cain and protects him from other men seeking vengeance. But that does not diminish the necessity of a reckoning. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, " (Romans 3:23) and "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23a).  We have not murdered someone with our hands, but we have murdered them in our minds, cutting them to pieces with our thoughts. We have lied, cheated, stole, hated, envied, slandered, and gossiped.  We are not able to grasp this concept but in the eyes of God, we are just as guilty as Bin Laden. Yet God loves us still, so much that He sent His son, Jesus, to die a horrible death on a cruel cross. He wore our sin the way he wore the lashings from the cat-of-nine-tails, the gashes in his skull from the crown of thorns, the bruises from being beaten, the spit of those who mocked him, and the holes from the nails in his hands and feet (Matthew 27). It is a horrible image, but this is the greatest gift, "the gift of God [that] is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
God loved Osama Bin Laden. God created him for a purpose and watched him every second of every day. He smiled the first time he cooed as a baby and sat with his mom as he took his first steps. He was there, sitting in sorrow, during Bin Laden's first indoctrination into the terrorist mindset. I believe he sought after him the same way he called the Israelites "Sought After" (Isaiah 62:12) when they had turned their back on Him. I believe He whispered to him in the dark and sent signs to him in hopes that he would look up and acknowledge Him. I pray that somehow, some way, he learned the truth and repented in his final days and hours. I pray that he, through the saving grace of Jesus Christ, was made right with God. And if not, I mourn the fact that yet another soul has chosen an eternity in the absence of God. I pray for peace for the loved ones of the victims of his evil acts. May they be comforted this day as they are once again reminded of the loss they faced. Lastly I pray for me and all the other Christians, who feel things that God does not want us to feel, who say things God does not want us to say, who rejoice in things that make God weep.