Relics, Resort, or Run?

As a kid I remember accusing Mama of keeping our house like a museum – “keep it clean, keep it neat, make your bed, put stuff away.”  

I thought a little layer of dust and a few books/toys strewn about would give our house a welcoming, lived-in look.  Now that I’m the mama, I see the “little layer of dust and books/toys strewn about” a little differently. lol.

Still, museums can be interesting places to visit if you are interested in the subject they keep and display.  I’d be fascinated to see the sword of Napoleon.  I’m not as interested in the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum of the Smokeys.  Somebody else might be, but me?  Not so much.

Museum RulesThere is something appealing about the idea of living in a house like a museum, though, isn’t there?  Clearly defined spaces, a place for everything, nothing gets broken or misplaced.  There are rules for being in a museum offering structure and protection.

We might forfeit a little bit of freedom, but we gain peace, right?  So what if we can’t run?

My house is far from a museum in the traditional sense of the word.  While we do have a place for everything… not everything is in its place.

So, maybe I would rather live in a hotel.  

Think about it.  When you walk into a hotel room, it’s nice to be there because there is no clutter, right?

Hotel BedsThe bedroom has a freshly made bed, clear bedside tables, and an uncluttered desk.  The dresser is empty with ample room to put away your clothes.  The closet would be a bit small for an entire wardrobe, but there is available hanging space and shelf space and a clear floor.

Hotel BathroomsThe bathroom has clean towels, an extra roll of toilet paper handy, and a tissue box with tissues actually in it.  There are two bars of soap and a pair of little bottles with shampoo and conditioner.  There is also a small sign telling you where you can get a toothbrush, razor, or comb if you need them – but they are not lying on the counter cluttering the bathroom, are they?

There is plenty of everything you need, but no excess.  It is an oasis of refreshment.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an oasis of refreshment as a house?

Yes, I think I’d rather live in a hotel than a museum.  I also think this idea is what organizational experts are selling.  And it sounds really good.

Actually, I think it is also what God offers.

I kind of think God invites us to live in the place where we are free from excess, but see the signs that anything you need will be provided if you ask.

Now it’s time for a confession:  I have a clutter problem.  Those of you who have been to my house will want to strongly disagree with me on this point, but I do.

And if we think of a museum as a place where items are kept and displayed, my clutter qualifies my house as a museum.

Clutter puts my unmade decisions, my lack of discipline, and my idolatry on display.

Have you ever thought about the nature of clutter that way?  Did you ever think of clutter as a heart issue?

Dealing with clutter is like dealing with any other heart issue: if you try to fix it from the outside, it won’t get fixed.  Clutter is a heart attitude, and until we deal with the heart, any number of organizational systems will continue to work for a while, and then fail.

It is kind of like losing weight.  Until our fundamental attitude about food changes, we cannot get off of the diet roller coaster.  We lose weight only to gain it back again.  One diet drops pounds, another holiday, baby, crisis, vacation… (fill in the blank) brings them back.

Clutter is like that.  Organizational systems often play the part of the fad diet.  I think we often fail to truly change because we are only addressing one component of the problem: lack of discipline.  And we beat ourselves up over our inability to be disciplined.

Clutter is much bigger than lack of discipline.  I mean, really…

  • Why is the pile of mail still on the counter?  Most likely it is because I didn’t decide where it should go (unmade decision) or put it there (lack of discipline).
  • Why do I keep clothes I don’t wear anymore on a top shelf in my closet?  Why are there boxes of china in my attic?  Because I may need them someday.  I’m afraid I’ll regret getting rid of them – it’s a way to make sure I have what I need rather than trusting God to provide (idolatry).
  • Why do I keep the platter I got as a wedding gift even though I never use it?  Guilt, a.k.a. fear of man, in this case (there it is again: idolatry).

Clutter affects my calendar as much as my countertops.

  • Pride encourages me to say “yes” to commitments I am not called to accept (idolatry)
  • Fear of man keeps me from saying “no” to requests I should not fulfill (idolatry)
  • Procrastination obligates me to attend certain events (no decision is a decision)
  • Repeated meetings occur because I am not prepared for the first one (lack of discipline)

Clutter keeps my home and my life from being an oasis of refreshment.

The God who promises a peace that passes all understanding also provides the way to that peace – and it always involves being a conduit of his blessing rather than a container for it.  He has not called us to a burdened life, to a life weighed down with a cluttered mind or a cluttered heart.  He promises freedom.  Freedom to live according to his ways and for his purposes.

If you, like me, have a clutter problem, I invite you to seek God’s place of refreshment with me over the next several weeks.  I invite you to throw off the clutter than entangles you so you can run God’s race unhindered.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Hebrews 12:1, NIV

Where the museum says, “No Running!” God says, “Please run!”

Do you want to run with me?

Recognizing Joy

In 2014 I have made a little pet-project of studying joy – pursuing it, if you will.

On one hand it’s a little hard to pursue joy because joy is not really an end in and of itself – it’s something that happens along the way.

But on the other hand, joy is a choice, an eternal gift like love and peace and goodness and kindness.  Joy is also a command (Psalm 47:1; Philippians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:16).

Joy is not happiness, mind you, which cannot be attained in anything like the same manner – but… a certain amount of happiness often accompanies joy.

There are lots of verses that tie joy to hope and to being in the presence of God (Psalm 40:16; Psalm 89:15-18; Proverbs 10:28; Romans 15:13).

I’m still pretty early in my study/pursuit, but I am finding that joy is tied to being with God in the place he called you to be – obeying moment by moment even in the hard stuff.

Joy is that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens…. Joy is our wholehearted response to whatever opportunity is given to us at any moment.

— David Steindl-Rast

There are some days it takes a certain amount of effort to choose to look at what’s happening as an opportunity rather than a disaster.

  • Snowy Daffodilswhen the hormonal roller coaster of teens and tweens throws my plans for the day off the track
  • the day the fifth child comes down with the stomach bug
  • the morning I wake to snow on our freshly planted spring flowers
  • the evening a friend calls in desperate need of counsel and I choose to take the call and cancel other plans
  • a delayed appointment which interrupts my perfectly laid plans for our school day
  • running out of bread on a day we have no time to go to the store
  • a child with a concussion from falling out of the tree

These are just a sampling of the things which interrupt my plans, things that threaten to capsize my heart and set me desperately floundering to stay afloat.

But God tells me my joy, my peace, my hope is not in circumstances working out as I planned, but in trusting in his plans which could look much different than I’m expecting – in embracing the opportunities he lavishes on me in unexpected ways.

Sometimes I miss it.  I don’t recognize the opportunity so I miss out on joy.  I don’t accept the interruption as a divine appointment so I forfeit joy.  I don’t see the turn in the road on my map, I refuse to check it with God’s GPS, and I end up at the dead end of my joy.

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. 

— Psalm 16:11

He promises peace, hope, and joy – but on his path, in his presence, with his pleasures.

The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.

— Julian of Norwich

It is as I draw close to God, as I walk according to the Spirit, as I abide in his love and learn to desire what he desires, as I take what comes from his hand with utter confidence in his goodness that I see the fullness of joy.

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http://www.ForestWander.com [CC-BY-SA-3.0-us (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Queen of Everything

Crown of DenmarkWhen I was growing up Mary Engelbreit was a popular artist.  Her work was on calendars, t-shirts, coffee mugs, key chains…  My parent’s bought me a sweatshirt that said, “Princess of Quite a Lot.”  There was a companion product for my  mother, “Queen of Everything.”

Now that I’m the mama, I guess that makes me Queen of Everything.

Being queen is not all fun and games, tea and petits fours, and servants and pretty clothes.  In fact, the last time I checked, most of that list went away when I became queen (i.e. had children).

Being queen comes with a lot of responsibility.  Being a parent carries a lot of weight because we are laying the groundwork for our children’s idea of authority.

Am I a benevolent dictator? A tyrant?  Do I make decisions based upon majority vote?  Popular opinion of the masses (e.g. my kids, our congregation, our ever-changing social norms)?  Do I lead by sacrificing or by demanding sacrifice?  Do I serve or insist on being served?

There are a lot of verses in the Bible about parenting, but when I think about establishing good relationships to authority, I like to think of myself as a queen – and therefore subject to all the verses instructing kings in the Bible.

One of those passages is in Proverbs 31.  {No, I’m not going to skip right to verse 10 and explore the Proverbs 31 woman.  I’ll save her for another day.  As women we often forget there are nine verses before the Proverbs 31 woman.}

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.  Proverbs 31:8-9

What better description of motherhood (i.e. queen-ness) is there?

Starting at my kitchen table, I see children who do not yet have a voice.  In a sense they are mute in our society.  They are poor and needy and destitute without my care.  They need lots of righteous judgment throughout the day in their many affairs and conflicts.  Often they need defending – from each other as well as from those outside of our home.  I have a voice.  I need to open my mouth for them.

If I look out my window I see elderly people who are disdained, their wisdom gained through long-life is all but ignored.  Often they are seen as without value because they no longer contribute to society.  They have a lot to contribute beyond their wage earning potential.  I have a voice.  I need to open my mouth for them.

I get it.  There are many places where my voice goes unheard, too.  Sometimes I am ignored because I am a woman.  Other times because I’m a stay-at-home mom.  Maybe it’s because I am a Christian, or a pastor’s wife, or over 40, or under 70, or white, or heterosexual.  There are all kinds of places and ways my voice is silenced, ignored, marginalized, or deemed irrelevant. No matter.  There are plenty of places my voice is heard.

One of the most important places my voice is heard is in the throne room of God.  Because of Christ, my voice is heard there.  I can cry out on behalf of others to the King of kings.  I have a voice and I need to open my mouth for them.

I can also cry out in the market place, refusing to support businesses who promote godless causes.  And I can direct my purchases to companies who  honor God’s ways, even if they are not Christian businesses.

I can cry out for the unborn, for those born with disabilities, for those nearing the end of life, for all those who constitute a “drain on society” when we fail to remember they were made in the image of God.

imageWhat kind of a queen am I?

Do my children see me drawing near to the throne of grace on their behalf?  Do they see me defending the rights of the poor and needy in our home and in our city and at the feet of Christ?  Do they see me love mercy and walk humbly as a child of the King?

Whether I am Princess of Quite a Lot or Queen of Everything, I must use my voice to defend the defenseless.  Sadly, our culture offers increasing opportunity to speak out for the defenseless.  At the same time, my voice is being silenced.

But not at the throne of grace.

I must speak out while I can in the courtrooms of public opinion, and never cease crying out in the throne room of grace.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4:16

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Crown of Denmark by Ikiwaner (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
Augusta von Preussen by Franz Xaver Winterhalter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Right or Righteous?

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.  James 1:19-20

I like to pop this little verse out in the middle of a heated argument with my husband – as if spitting “Be quick to hear!  Listen to me!” through clenched teeth will somehow soften his heart, derail the argument, and set us on a straight path where we both recognize we are on the same team.  I conveniently forget my heart should be listening to him.  Oops.

Angry WomanThe problem is, to some degree, that I tend to divorce the instruction part of the passage (“Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”) from the reason part of the passage (“the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”).

All the trite little sayings and quips designed to snap our minds into focus do the same thing.  (“God gave us two ears and one mouth, we should listen twice as often as we speak.”)

I need to listen.  I need to hold my tongue.  I need to slow my anger.

Great.  Now I know what I need to do.  But knowing is only half the battle…

It is important to be a ready listener, thoughtful, and to view the situation charitably and through the lens of scripture before I reply, but the reason for making this effort is so that God can produce righteousness in me.

If I am seeking righteousness rather than a three-step method to anger management, I will be slow to speak because I take the time to identify the actual problem, deal with what is going on in my own heart, and approach the other person with a desire to understand, not to overrule.

When I take the time to identify the problem this way and to seek God-honoring solutions rather than identifying another person as the problem and seeking to win, anger is naturally delayed – and righteousness has the opportunity to grow – in me and in others.  I yield to the Spirit and choose righteousness over my rights.

Think about it with respect to mommy-ing.  If I act in anger toward my children (with things like sighs, shouting, the silent treatment, withholding affection, unjust punishment, sarcastic words, criticism, not  to mention cruelty or abuse), I am not growing in righteousness.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, right?  Nor will they learn righteousness.  They will be on the defensive.  They might learn to behave to avoid my wrath, but they are not learning to be righteous.  I end up training hypocrites: little people who look vastly different in their hearts than what they display in their actions.

I don’t want that for my kids!  Truth be told, I don’t want that for me either, with them or with my husband.  Or anyone else for that matter!

I can use reflecting statements to indicate I’ve listened (quick to hear).  I can count to ten before answering (slow to speak).  I can stuff my anger until a more convenient moment (slow to *expressed* anger).  But none of that produces righteousness.

External solutions to internal problems are rarely effective.

So the question becomes: In my heart, is it more important to be right or to be righteous?

For some practical aids in pursuing righteousness, I refer you to RW360.org.  I think the biblical principles articulated by Ken Sande (founder of Peacemakers Ministries, Relational Wisdom 360, and author of The Peacemaker) have the potential to change your life.  In the interest of full disclosure:  I am excited to be part of this new ministry as a Certified Relational Wisdom Instructor.  I am teaching a live seminar on May, 3, 2014 in Crossville, TN.  For more information about this Women’s Event, please see Upcoming Events on this site or at RW360.
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By keith ellwood from Valencia Spain, Spain (Las Fallas Valencia Spain angry woman) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I Need Easter

Mission San Buenaventura, 1903

Yesterday we celebrated Easter.

Resurrection Day.

Greetings of “He is risen!” were met with, “He is risen, indeed!” in the halls of our church.  Faces were bright, happy, and hopeful.  Worship was enthusiastic and joyful in a way it isn’t on other Sundays.  I’m good with that.  It is not unlike my daily delight in my husband being amplified on our anniversary or when we celebrate his birthday.

I need the annual reminder of God’s sacrifice and victory at Easter like I need the weekly reminder of the relevance of scripture for my days through Sunday worship, and a daily reminder of his presence in my moments through personal study and prayer.

But I don’t want to move on too quickly from the refreshment I find in an Easter service.

Easter is why we worship.

Easter is about the risen Christ who has set us free to live the life for which God created us.

On Good Friday we think about Jesus on the cross.  We should.

We think about him hanging there between two criminals – thieves.

Stop there a minute – theft earned crucifixion.  We don’t really think about stealing as a crime deserving the death penalty.  We barely view murder as deserving the death penalty.

God takes theft seriously, doesn’t he?  As a matter of fact, all sin deserves the death penalty.

Which is why Christ came.

If you think about it, all sin is theft, in a way.

  • We are stealing God’s glory when we sin.  We tarnish his name by taking the image of God in us and distorting it into something ugly.
  • We steal from his world when we abuse the earth rather than exercise dominion over it.
  • We take from his inherent creativity when we create vulgarity instead of beauty.
  • We take from his people when we hoard instead of giving lavishly to others.
  • We steal life through abortion, slander, gossip, and silence.
  • We steal joy through criticism and judgment, cruelty, envy, and anger.
  • We take innocence and fidelity with our clothing choices, language, and no-fault divorce policies.

I think that is some of what is behind the statement:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  — John 10:10

Jesus stands in stark contrast to the thieves on the crosses, because they deserved to be there, and because he came to give rather than take.

We don’t think too much about the thieves on the crosses with Christ because we know they at least did something wrong – even if we wouldn’t consider it worthy of the death penalty.

And I think sometimes we don’t think too much about ourselves in that light either.  Sure, we did something wrong, but is it really worthy of the death penalty?  If our sins came to light – the half-truths, the critical words, the judgmental heart, the coveting spirit, the contention, dissension – and we were condemned to death by lethal injection or electrocution – we’d be outraged!  It would seem unjust.

But it’s not.

God said, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

I need to be reminded of the death penalty I earned by my sin.  Not because I live condemned – for “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

No, I need to be reminded of the great debt that was paid, the same way I need to be reminded of my wedding vows.

The annual celebration of our wedding anniversary is more than a nice dinner out and maybe a night in a hotel without kids.  It’s an opportunity to remember what I’ve committed to, to celebrate our faithfulness, and to commit to another year of being married and walking together with Jesus.  Celebrating our anniversary inspires affection and renews desire.

The annual celebration of Easter is more than an Easter Egg Hunt and a festive service with like-minded believers.  It’s an opportunity to remember what God has committed to, to celebrate his faithfulness, and to commit to another year of being in his church and walking together with Jesus.  Celebrating Easter inspires gratitude and revives my weary heart.

Easter reminds me of a life characterized by theft, murder, and destruction (even in their lesser forms), and that I have been freed by someone else to live a different life.

I’m holding out for grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

— Bono

It reminds me of the contrast Christ offers me – freedom to live life and to live life abundantly.  God is lavish with his grace.

Thank God, He doesn’t measure out grace in teaspoons. — Amy Carmichael

That is why I need Easter.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.

— Ephesians 3:20-21

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By Pierce, C.C. (Charles C.), 1861-1946 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons