Friday, August 31, 2012

Shocked and Awed by God and Sex

Every blue moon someone tells me that I like shock value and have an affinity for the spicy things of life.  I can't deny that.  Sometimes I make people laugh because they have a hard time believing I just said "that".  Sometimes I make people uncomfortable.  I want you to know, that my motives aren't (solely) to make people's eyes get bigger.  I want people's hearts to get bigger. 

Doctors will administer cardiogenic shock treatment to a physical heart in order to repair damage caused by lack of oxygen.  When it comes to the issue of sex, too many people's spiritual hearts have had an abundance of the world's perspective and very little of God's life breathing words and teaching.  I could shout my opinions on this subject all day.  But I want you to hear a short testimony from one of my friends.  This is a snapshot of the women sitting in your pews at church.  This is a story of a married Christian woman who has walked down the middle of a church aisle for her salvation and the middle of a book aisle for her orgasmic motivation.  This is a common story with an uncommon, but intended and wonderful ending.

"I recently went through something you've been talking about.  I was reading romance novels and romance movies to get "turned on" (excuse my bluntness) or to "spice it up"...until i read a book a friend recommended Sex and the Supremacy of Christ.  It was SO good!  But I realized just how satan has tainted the beauty of sex and how God intended it to be....a friend was talking to me too around this same time about the book, fiftyshades of grey, and how ever since reading them it has "spiced things up" and that even though it was graphic it was a good story....I was able to tell her I was doing that too until i was convicted after what I had read in the 'God and sex' book. Now that I have a great perspective on God and His intention for sex I was able to tell her how much more I desired my husband than ever! Anyway, God's timing is great! My heart aches for all these married folks who have the world's view of marriage and sex. They have no idea how great marriage and sex can be. God intended so much more for us!!! Same with life in general! I just ache for these that just dont know how great God is!!! PS..i love to follow my husband too!! The view [from behind] IS great!! Ha ha!"

It's not that men's sex drives are too high and women's sex drives are too low.  It's that our view of sex is not high enough and our view of God is too low.  We are people that are content to settle for someone else's story instead of making our own.  We are content to live vicariously through a screen or human author's book instead of living out the pages of the Word that gives abundant life.  We accept "fake" and will not work hard for what's real and lasting.

May God bless you.  And if you're married, I wrote few words here, so that you can make more time for a fantastic night with your husband.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Parenting Philosophies and the Perplexing Plethora of Publications

Ten years ago this month, I became a primarily stay-at-home mom.  Three kids later, I have encountered another huge life change—my youngest child entered kindergarten.  The pre-school days have come and gone for me.  Some of those long days are a blur, but I remember well the anxiety I had about being a new mom.  I did not feel prepared to adequately handle the job, so I asked a lot of questions to those more experienced and set out to read books.  The first two I read were written by acclaimed Christian authors about taking care of a newborn. The content and practical application of those two books were completely opposite of one another, with bible verses to support each author’s philosophy.

I knew several families at the time who were very familiar with Babywise.  That book alone helped some of my friends have a peaceful and restful life.  That book also led some families down a path of tremendous heartache, like my dear friend whose child nearly died because of the counsel and the content of that book and the teachers/support group who taught it.

I was so confused.  Which way is right?  How can one philosophy bring both help and heartache to its readers?  Since that time, I have read a lot of books, but I think being an avid reader is both helpful and dangerous.  It’s helpful when authors teach us how to think.  It’s borderline dangerous when they tell you what to do about anything not clearly laid out in Scripture.

Here is my attempt to help those who like to read know what to look for while they are reading.  Parenting books generally fall into one of three categories:

Child-centered parenting or child-directive approach:
Within this philosophy, children’s bents, personalities, schedules, and the children themselves become the focal point of the home.  Much secular behavioral psychology stems from this philosophy.  Followed to its end, this philosophy gives license and creates entitlement.

Parent-centered parenting or parent-directive approach:
Within this philosophy, the parents set the schedule and the expectations.  The parents’ personalities and bents are more central than the children’s.  Many Christian parenting books written in the 70’s and 80’s were written to combat the child-centered parenting philosophies, but the solutions were written from a parent-directive approach.  Followed to its end, parent-centered parenting promotes legalism and creates exasperation among the children.

Gospel-centered parenting or Bible-based parenting:
One has to be very careful with putting books in this category.  Not every Bible-claiming book is Gospel-centered or Jesus-loving.  No matter how hard an author tries, he or she has a bent toward a child or parent directive approach.  However, with a Gospel-centered approach, the starting point of the philosophy lies neither with the child or parent.  Jesus’ expectations set the tone and schedule of the family.  Jesus is the Boss and the head of the home.

The Bible is the final authority in our home, we strive to keep Jesus the center, and apply the Gospel to every-day parenting.  With that being said, I have found other books written by Christian men and women to be helpful.  I read them with a critical eye, picking and choosing what I want to incorporate in my own home.  I'll admit, I am bent towards child-centered parenting.  I don't agree with that philosophy, it's just when I err, it is usually in that direction.

The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges:
The book has nothing to do with parenting.  The practical application of this book has everything to do with parenting.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp:
I found 80% of this book to be what I wanted my parenting to look like.  I disagree with his stance on spanking as the only physical discipline.  I hold many things in my “toolbox” of discipline.  No discipline is executed in our home without communicating, but I find time-outs, gracefully executed, have their time and place.

Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman:
This is a great follow-up to read after Shepherding a Child’s Heart.  Tripp and Plowman share the same parenting and counseling models, but Plowman gives more practical illustrations as a mother who has been there.

The Duties of Parents by JC Ryle:
This is not really a book, it’s a short pamphlet. It’s old-school and a bit legalist and rigid in my opinion, but really good for thinking through the responsibilities of parenthood.

Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas:
This book doesn’t focus on how to train your children, but rather how God uses children to train us.  I identified with Thomas’ struggles as a parent, and found the tension he described just as humorous in my own life.

Parenting: From Surviving to Thriving by Charles Swindoll:
I am ¾ of the way through this book so I can’t critique it well.  I can tell Swindoll has a child-centered bent but he uses the Bible as his starting place.  He encourages the parent to be a good student of the Bible and his or her own children.

A caution on James Dobson:
James Dobson has good things to say in every book he writes.  He is a brilliant man and I wish I had his brain.  However, readers just need to know that he himself claims not to be a theologian, but a psychologist.  Dobson starts with behavioral psychology and applies the Bible to it, not the other way around.  If you have a good Gospel-centered foundation, his tips are awesome and can help with short-term training.  But know that his teaching is about behavior modification, not heart change.  Followed to its end, his teaching can create robots or rebels.

Think of the Gospel as the leafy green things that are the base of your salad.   Any author’s methods are meant to be croutons or bacon bits or dressing.  They add great flavor.  Some think you can’t have a salad without these toppings.  That’s okay, but if your salad is primarily croutons, your children will have carb overload.  If you have a bowl of dressing with a couple of spinach leaves, your children can grow up to be fat diabetics with no nutrition.

Read.  Think.  Pray.  Scrutinize all teaching under the authority of Scripture.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dogs, Crazy People, and Germy Places: the Simplicity of Sharing the Gospel

“…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”  1 Peter 3:15

I am often cautious to talk about ways I’ve shared the Gospel.  The main reason is because I have missed as many opportunities to share my faith as I have made.  I do not want to give an incomplete story of my life.  Another reason: when I read other’s stories about this subject for myself, I feel guilty about my inadequacies instead of praising God for the expansion of his glory.  I assume there are others who do likewise.  It is not my intention to impose some sort of false guilt on any of my friends.

Nevertheless, since I am around myself the most, I have more stories involving myself than anything else.  Secondly, knowing my failures shouldn’t make people feel better about themselves, it should make them feel better about a God who still uses a blundering, sometimes insecure, person to relay the most important message in life.  Thirdly, sharing the Gospel is not as hard as I once thought it was.  Fourth, I believe there are many people who'd like to share their faith, but don't really know where to start.  Here are three different scenarios that can hopefully motivate Christians to see that God’s mercy is great, His burdens are light, and evangelism is not a scary word.

The Park
A friend and I went to the park with our kids and my dog.  We were talking about an event coming up at church when my dog made friends with another woman’s dog.  The fellow dog-owner over-heard our conversation and began to briefly tell us her beliefs about religion.  She thought Muslims, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormons, and Christians all had good arguments.  She then looked straight at me and asked, “What do you believe?  How does someone get to Heaven?”

I had just a few minutes to respond by saying I think Jesus is the only way to Heaven. While I think the other religions are wrong, I in no way disrespect the people who follow those beliefs.  I had less than a minute to tell why Jesus is God and the Savior of the world.  The stranger left with her dog seemingly intrigued and still thinking about our brief conversation.

On Campus
I’ve been mentoring a student who is really working on sharing her faith.  She doesn’t understand why she rarely has spiritual conversations with non-believers.  So we started praying for them.  One day, we met at Starbucks and I prayed God would bring us an opportunity that day.  We had a great talk and then walked out the door to a fairly empty campus when I said “you know, I don’t know where anything is on this campus.  I need to give myself a tour.”  Out of nowhere, a male student walked up behind us and said, “Well, too bad you haven’t been here to listen to the crazy preacher on campus who tells us we’re all going to hell.”

I was trying to figure out how a need to be familiar with the campus and crazy preachers go together.  There was no connection.  Here was the moment I prayed for.  I asked the stranger what he thought about that, if street preaching was the best way to go about things, and what he thought about salvation, heaven, and hell.  For five minutes, this guy, the student and me dialogued about the reasons he won’t call himself a Christian and why he doesn’t like church but is open to Jesus.

Eating Food
My friend and I were eating fast-food together while my kids were in the play area.  My four year old comes off the slide and to our table and asks, “Are we all sinners?”  Strange question at that time, but I answered it, and my daughter ran back to the play area.  When it was time to leave, I gathered my kids’ shoes and found out that there was a four-year-old boy in the play area asking a lot of spiritual questions and my kids had been attempting to answer them.  The little boy asked me if I really thought we were all sinners.  I told him yes, there are sinners who follow Jesus and sinners who don’t.   The difference is that Jesus died to save us from our sin.   When a person trusts in Jesus, they don’t have to let their sin rule over them.  Jesus becomes your Boss.  He asked more questions, and I attempted to answer them the best I knew how in four-year-old language.

While I was leaving the restaurant, the little boy ran to the booth where two or three adults were sitting.  He told his mom, “Mom, we all sin.  We’re all sinners.”  The mom brushes him off and says, “no honey, we’re not all sinners.”  He adamantly responds, “Yes we are mom.  (points his finger) That lady told me we were, and I believe her.”  As I walked out the door, the little boy recounted almost word for word our conversation by the slide.

You may wonder why I didn’t stay to further converse.  Maybe I’m a chicken.  For sure, the four year old was doing a pretty good job and had the attention of those within ear shot of him.

Evangelism is not just for the preachers or the spiritually powerful or the bold.  In these cases, God used a dog, a street-corner offensive preacher, and two pre-schoolers with no prior saving knowledge of salvation to be links in the Gospel message.  God can certainly use you and me.  There are, however, four common threads that have given me the opportunity to speak into someone’s life.

  1. I pray for opportunities.
   Please don’t get the image of me kneeling beside my bed spending lots of uninterrupted time in prayer.  Prayer is my weak spot, and is the number one reason I spend much of my time being frustrated.  I do, however, regularly pray while fixing meals or driving in the car that God will bring the conversations to me, because I’m not that good at starting them myself.  Often, the kids will hear me pray an adapted version of the Lord’s prayer over them: “Father, glorify Your name in this family.  Your kingdom come, your will be done through ____(and I list my kids’ names,)  It’s a short prayer.  I’ve seen God answer it time and time again.  All of my kids have been a part of spreading the Gospel, even before they had received it themselves.

  1. I practice in private.
I use to feel incredibly guilty when I missed opportunities to speak truth.  My coach of a husband has helped me with this.  Now I use my missed opportunities to get better for the next time.  I mill the conversation in my head over and over, until I come up with good answers.  I visualize having a conversation with someone, and by the time the next opportunity rolls around, I am more prepared to present the Gospel.

  1. I’m in public with and in participation with other believers.
   I’ve never had the opportunity to share the Gospel with unbelievers while I was fighting with a believer. Though there are appropriate times to productively debate in private, God uses the unity of his own children to attract more children.  There is power when two or three of God’s people come together in His name.  Do we really believe this?  Or do we try to fly solo?

  1. I’m in the presence of non-believers.
This is self-explanatory.  We have to get out of our house and into the world.  There are times to eat at home, there are times to eat somewhere else.  There are times to play in the backyard, there are times to find public play areas.  There are times to sit alone and study, there is a time for Starbucks! 

And I don’t even like coffee.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Secret Sins of Friends: how to pick your friends and future spouse

It sobered my heart when my 9 year old daughter asked me, "How will I really know if the man I marry is a Christian. What if he says he is, and then I marry him, but find out later that he's not?"

She didn't ask this question because she watches TV or reads magazines. She didn't ask  because of school kid's parents. She asked this question because she is heavily involved in the church. She asks because we, her parents, have had friend after friend desert the faith. My kids have watched dads walk out on their playgroup buddies. My kids have experienced the reality of divorce, not from a screen or a school or their own parents, but from our shared meals with friends, acquaintances, and church-goers.

As parents, we teach the Bible to help understand the issues of life.  Our 7 year old son knows the stories of David, Solomon, and Abraham. Our son recalled the great faith and folly of these men, and so he asked: "how do I know if I'm going to follow God when I'm old? What if I mess up like they did? It's easy to do the right thing when you're a kid." My son didn't need the screen or the school to teach him the deprivation of the human heart--he figured it out just by reading Scripture.

There is a lot of wisdom in those kids' questions. The truth is, no one turns into a crappy spouse or person overnight. No one has impecable character for years, and then suddenly commits a moral catastrophe mid-life. There are often warning signs. If left un-checked and never repented of, the blunders of child-hood, the little white lies, the secret sins of the teenager will become the famous follies of the adult.

Jesus, His Gospel and salvation, is the critical foundation for this life and the next. But just because someone claims to know Jesus, can articulate the Gospel, and may be genuinely saved, doesn't mean he or she is a wise person. Foolish people reak havoc on themselves and the people they are around.

One hope or goal for my children is that by the time they leave our house, they will have mastered the Proverbs. I want them to learn how to be wise, what character looks like, how to find friends and spouses who are wise, and how to identify a fool.

Proverbs is a critical book of the Bible for wise living and in my opinion, the best book about relationships. The writer spends most of his time comparing and contrasting the wise and the foolish, so that we ourselves can become wise and knowledgable people. The writer also concentrates much of his time teaching his children who to be friends with. (Prov 1:10-19,12:26, 13:20, 14:7, 18:24, 23:20, 24:1, 24:21, 27:9-10, 27:17, 28:7, 29:3) Contrary to popular belief, the caliber of one's own friends reveals (not determines) what kind of person one is. Bad friends don't corrupt good kids. Bad kids find bad friends. Immature kids find immature friends. Wise people have wise friends. The company one keeps reveals a lot about the character of one's heart, and what is important to him. Therefore,  it is important to guard your inner circle. You should be friendly to many, but be careful who you befriend. You can (and probably should) have many acquaintances and many dinner conversations, but the friends you allow to influence you should be focused and carefully selected.
Here's a list of the kinds of people the Proverbs talk about. These are the character qualities all of us need to be mindful of. The following "people" are who you want to be, and who you want your friends/spouse to be:

Patient Pat

(Proverbs 10:18, 16:32, 19:2, 19:11, 20:21,20:25, 21:5, 22:26-27, 23:4, 25:8, 27:15-16, 29:20)
Impatient people will make horrible life decisions and rack up debt quickly. They will be quick to do the wrong thing to satisfy their own timing. Their impulsiveness can lead them to bad business deals, affairs, and horrible parenting styles.

Benevolant Benny and Generous Gwen

Prov. 11:24-26, 14:21,15:21, 17:5,19:17, 21:13, 22:9, 22:16, 22:22-23, 28:27, 28:25, 29:7, 31:20
The proverbs are adamant about being kind toward the poor and generous with belongings. A love for the poor is a sign of deeper character qualities. It is by no means a sin to be rich, but one should be generous with his riches. The greedy person, or one who holds too tightly to his money, will eventually do unimaginable things for his own selfish gain. (Remember Judas.)

Teachable Terry
Proverbs 11:14, 17:10, 19:20, 20:18, 24:6
Stay away from the stubborn person! A teachable spirit is of high value. A person who continually seeks godly advice about life decisions will not make many stupid ones.

Honorable Henry
Proverbs 20:20, 23:22, 30:17
You think it's okay to badmouth your parents? Think again. Remember that "Honor thy Father and Mother" is the only one of the 10 Commandments with a promise. It's just true--life generally goes well for the respectful kid, no matter what his age. A man or woman who continually disrespects his parents is headed for trouble, and you don't want to be with them with God lets them have the fruit of their ways.


Angry Adam and the Quarrelsome Queen
Proverbs 17:1, 17:19, 19:13,19:19, 20:3, 21:19, 22:24, 25:24, 29:11, 29:22
Living with a hot-tempered man is hell on earth. A person prone to anger has all kinds of "hidden" idols, and you'll soon find they love to control, manipulate, and dominate.
Likewise, Solomon found no kind of woman more troubling than one who argues all the time. Solomon compares the quarrelsome queen to that annoying, constant drip out of the sink; he would rather be poor, have yucky dry dinners, live in a corner of a roof, or a desert than be in the house with a girl who argues.

Gabby Gossip and Chattering Charlie
Proverbs 10:8, 10:19, 11:9,11:12, 13 , 12:16, 13:3, 16:26-27, 17:9, 17:27, 20:19, 21:9, 21:23, 25:9-10
If one can not control her tongue, she has not trained her heart. She will tear people down to make herself look better. She will reveal information about you that is meant to be private. She has no discretion and it will rip you apart if you stay in her company for long.

Lazy Larry and Sally Sluggard
Prov 10:4,5, 10:26, 12:11, 12:24,12:27, 18:9, 19:15, 19:24, 20:13, 21:25-26, 22:13, 24:30-34, 26:13-16, 28:19, 31:13-19
Look at these verses about the value of working hard! Work was the first thing he told Adam and Eve to do in the garden. People are meant to work. Lazy people will hold up progress and frustrate everyone they're around. The sluggard is paranoid someone is always out to devour him; he won't be confident in his own ability to get the job done. Lazy people chase fantasies instead of working plans. Be careful of the dreamers who are never do-ers!

Flattering Floyd and Charla Charmer
Proverbs 10:10a,16:30, 26:24-26, 28:23, 29:5, 31:30
Have you ever met those people who are constant flatterers? That's a sign that they are deceptive. If they over-compliment you, beware, because they are hiding something.

Debbie Downer and Depressing Dan
Proverbs 17:22, 18:14
It's a well-known fact that "Debbie-downers" will suck the life right out of the people they are around. Most people get depressed here or there, but constant whining and lack of joy are not the subtle qualities you want creeping into your life. The mopers spend too much of their time watching the news and other people, and too little time looking to Jesus for their hope. They'll grow bitter, and nothing you ever do will be good enough for them.

There are other qualities mentioned in Proverbs that are signs of a person who is growing in wisdom. You want to find and be a person who is self-controlled, (25:28) friendly, ( 18:1) kind, (11:16,17) knowledgable, (19:2) seeks understanding, (17;27, 18:22) fears the Lord, (19:23)takes responsibility for own sin,(19:3, 28:13) takes action when warned, (22:3, 27:12) and who is concerned with doing the right thing just because it is the right thing to do (20:11, 21:3). The Proverbs also warn against the people who only see things his or her way ( 26:12, 28:26, 30:12). There are people in life who have their own view of reality and their stubborness will confuse and cripple others. Prov 27:4 warns that jealousy can be more burdensome to live with than anger. The jealous person will try to control everything in your life. Also be careful of those who are constantly seeking new experiences (21:17)--they will eventually outspend your budget.

You may have found qualities in this list that get you in trouble. If you had a little "ouch" moment, take heart: that's a sign that you are teachable. Let the Word of God convict you. Let these qualities challenge you, Christ change you, and may these sins not characterize you.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fighting the Good Fight: living as a citizen of Heaven and United States

There is a well-known Bible character who was known for his readiness to speak the truth and defend God.  His name was Peter, one of the 12 men who spent the most time with Jesus while He walked the earth.  When the soldiers came to bring Jesus to the cross, Peter immediately reacts, draws his sword and cuts off a soldier’s ear.  Jesus wasn’t happy with the way His friend stood up for him.  You see, Jesus is a big boy.  He can defend Himself.  He didn’t need Peter, or me, or you to rise up and save His name.  Jesus laid His life down willingly to save ours.

I am learning the hard way, like Peter, that God doesn’t need defending.  Most people are not impressed by my ability to “wield the sword,” quote Scripture, stand for a cause, defend a political position, or tell everyone what’s wrong with them.  There are conversations I wish I could re-do.   There are statuses that I would fine-tune or re-write. There are blog posts that I have re-written.  I wouldn’t re-do the conversations, fine-tune the statuses or re-write the blog posts because I believe what I once said was wrong, but because I was more concerned with defending what was “right” than loving a person and trying to keep them out of harm’s way.

Jesus set the bar high when it came to living on earth while being a citizen of Heaven. The power structure of His day did not like Him.  When a group wanted to stone Jesus, He would often retreat and find another group of people to teach.  He would continue to heal people, gently oppose wrong thinking, and serve the people.  Jesus was never afraid to engage in conversation—He would answer questions with questions and tell vague stories to illustrate a point no one thought He’d make.  He spent the most time with his inner circle of friends and disciples, but always made time to love on and teach both the Pharisees and prostitutes of His day.  And then, at the proper time, when people wanted to get rid of Jesus, He laid down his rights and died to save them.

Jesus does not need to be defended.  But He does want to be displayed.  He displays Himself through the Word of God, creation, and the hearts of His people. So as Christians who bear his name, we have to be careful, not always about what we do, but how we do it.  As a citizen of the United States, we are free to enjoy the benefits of being an American.  As an alien of this world, we are still free to enjoy the benefits of being an American--engaging in political affairs, becoming a politician, taking advantage of free speech, working hard to make successful businesses, and supporting those who do.  But please remember, our primary citizenship should always affect the way we carry out our secondary citizenship.
Here are some things to consider as we live in the world and not of it:

1.  God has never been concerned with majority rule.
  •  Sin entered the world through one man.  God overcame the world by One man.
  • When Peter came to protect Jesus while He was arrested, Jesus said “Put your sword back in its place…..Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
  • God dwindled massive armies in the Old Testament to prove that God’s wars are not won by numbers, but by His power.  (See Judges)

  1. Support of God’s design for marriage is primarily done by having a God-glorifying marriage.
  • Vote.  Teach.  Advocate. But spend the majority of time helping others understand the Bible, come closer to Christ, and apply biblical principles to marriage. 
  • The mockers are correct: selfishness, adultery and divorce are the first threats to marriage.  Be a part of lessening these.
  •  If you want to expose the darkness, make sure you point to the light.  If you want to label something as “wrong”, give hope for a way out.  Provide direction.  People are not motivated to change JUST by seeing the negative, but by being able to visualize the positive.
  3.    There is a difference between “exclusion” and “persecution”.
  • If Christians get on their megaphones and whine about the government excluding them, THEN they need to be worried about persecution. Drama invites hatred.  Be very careful about the use of words—“persecution” is usually associated with those being beaten and killed for their faith.  Americans experience some forms or types of persecution, but we need to be careful with vocalizing those words to the world.   
  1. Be careful about who or what you fight against.
  • Eph 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
  • Attack ideas, call sin out, oppose policies.  Do not label all liberals or conservatives the same.  Be kind.  Be wise.  Understand the people who oppose you.  Love others.  Concern yourself with keeping people out of harm’s way.