Saturday, January 9, 2016

Where Does Your View Point?

There's an impolite little adage about opinions; it all boils down to everyone's got one and they all stink. In this world, where access to information and misinformation is gained in less time than it takes me to type this sentence, opinions simply come with the territory. And though opinions have not by definition changed, the value we place on them has. Infinitesimal amounts of knowledge at our fingertips, in our vehicles, in our schools, on our televisions, in our watches -- and somehow, we can't stop freaking out because someone approves of gun control, or someone thinks gay marriage should be legal, or someone believes Chris Christie had gastric bypass, or someone loves bacon and fur (probably not together, but you never know). It's really no wonder we as a society are so stressed out! We go to the mat on everything!
My brother and I had some knock down, drag out fights. They usually began with some critical issue like: Felix the Cat vs. General Hospital. I'm serious! We would half kill each other. But we were, like, nine. It is no less ridiculous among "adults" in the world today. People have become so committed to what they believe, or their values, they expect everyone else to see it that way. And that's good, I guess, to want everyone to experience the same certainty or peace of mind, but it just doesn't happen by shoving your opinions down the throats of others. When we long to belong to something -- anything -- it can drive us to make a cause out of everything. But there are so many causes that affect us all; causes we could all be fighting for, together. Instead, we are divided over unwarranted, uninformed, unsolicited, and unprofitable opinions. Blame this on those in charge? After all, our leaders can't seem to get along any better than we do. How about the deterioration of marriages? Mom and Dad's refusal to work together has set a bad example for Mary and Johnny. Maybe it's our competition/ sports-obsessed society. Our we could blame it on injustices that have run so deeply for years, they cannot help but bubble over in even the most unlikely of ways. Some Christians have declared we are receiving God's judgment; or because we have removed Him from government buildings and schools, an essential building block of human relations has been removed and love has become foreign in concept. But even our finger pointing can stem from nothing more than opinion.
Don't get me wrong, causes are important; especially to Christians. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, in their book When Helping Hurts, discuss the folly of those who, without acknowledging Christ serve causes, expecting to bring about the sort of peace and harmony promised in Christ's kingdom. They also write that, for Christians, it's just as foolish to acknowledge Christ without furthering His kingdom by serving causes. Jesus healed the lame, caused the blind to see, served those who were downtrodden and rejected by society. And I am all for doing the same. But spouting off about this or that, pontificating about the ways our society doesn't measure up to God's holy standards, fixating on the problems or the sins without providing solutions or a willingness to work toward change, makes it more about us and less about the great God that put us here to point to Him. In Matthew 6. Jesus talks about fasting, praying, giving to the poor -- all good things, right? Not necessarily. When they are done to draw attention to the fast-er, the pray-er, the giver, not so much. These things are to be done to glorify our Heavenly Father; not as some publicity stunt or self-serving demonstration of man's goodness.
When everyone is fired up about the "hot-button" issues, some times it's best to keep your head down. That's not to say we shouldn't call out a Christian who is downright libelous or inflammatory, but we should use prudence when it comes to tossing in our two cents. That's really more than what most opinions are worth, and it rarely leads to truly intelligent discussion. The Word of God does not skimp on or demur at what it has to say about the tongue, and our words. But the bottom line for Christians is this: it is our purpose and obligation to speak of Jesus. If what we're saying to others isn't pointing them to Jesus, if we are not speaking life to them, what are we saying? To whom are we pointing?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Because He Loves Us So

Our children are one of the most precious gifts we could ever be given. From their first wail to the day they drive off to a life of their own, they are our greatest responsibility and our greatest joy; our greatest exasperation and our greatest sorrow; our greatest victory and our greatest loss. In caring for our children we push ourselves to limits we never thought possible, encounter some of the more disgusting aspects of life, exhaust every resource we have at our disposal, and reduce ourselves to silliness we've not experienced since childhood ourselves. All for this stranger that appears kicking and screaming into our lives, needing everything we've got for the next eighteen years. And we'd do it all over again. For as long as it takes. Because we love them so.

Some time shortly before the age of two our children begin to develop minds of their own. And that is when -- as they say -- It's on! And sometimes, nothing but prayer can get you -- and them -- through it. The ups and downs we have experienced with all of our children could fill volumes; but right now, we've got one who is going through it again. Having to witness it is almost physically painful. My stomach churns and my heart aches. I want to jump in and stop the mania. I want to reverse years of damage and lies. I want a fresh start for my child; new and untainted; the opportunity to do it all with none of the scars and baggage of a past life -- scars and baggage that my precious child allows to keep him/ her held hostage by the roller coaster life he/ she has chosen. But I can't. So, I pray.

I was doing just that on my way to work this morning. As I was pouring out my heart, I said, "Lord, I don't think I can do this anymore. A part of me dies with every awful decision, every bit of craziness. How can I sit back and watch this? It's like watching your child shoot up right in front of you." ... Wow. Did I really just say that? I mean, did I really have to tell Him that? El Roi, The God Who Sees Me? All those times I thought I was hiding something from someone, I certainly wasn't hiding from Him. Every time I told a lie, picked up a bottle, lifted something from a store, cheated on a test; did something from the most despicable to the least -- every time -- the God who loves me even more than I could ever love my child, was forced to watch me damage my life and break His heart. He watched as I hurt others, and allowed others to hurt me. He watched as I struggled to survive, all the while sinking further into the quicksand of a broken life. He watched as I made one bad choice to hide the consequences of another. He watched as my life spiraled crazily out of control and I foolishly, arrogantly insisted I could do it on my own. This is the God to whom I stated the most obvious. This is the God to whom I was preaching!

But you know what? I know He listened. Yeah, it was a little strange: my explaining that to Him. But He wants me to cry to Him; He wants me to express my deepest needs. And sometimes He even uses our "crying out" as a mirror. Though I gazed into the mirror a flawed, frustrated parent, the reflection I beheld was exactly what He has done for me, a forgiven, deeply loved daughter. My Heavenly Father sent His Only Son to die for me; but if the pain He felt watching me sin time after time is anything like what I'm feeling, He has died a thousand deaths already. This is the Father that loves me. That loves you. This is the Father that patiently, carefully stands by and watches us all at our worst, but never stops reminding us, "I love you." And He'd do it all over again. For as long as it takes. Because He loves us so.

Monday, January 4, 2016

What on Earth Would God Want with a Hopeless Romantic?

I am a romantic. Not the kind that watches sappy Lifetime TV, or reads all those silly novels with Fabio on the cover; but the kind that enjoys solitude, and can be dark and brooding when left to my own devices. I am passionate about the people and things I consider priorities, and I tend to process events in terms of the feelings they evoke rather than details. Being a romantic can mean getting your passions squashed by people who are "just trying to talk some sense into you." Romantics tend to jump headlong into things best tip-toed into, finding themselves broken and alone, double-crossed by their own impetuosity.

As a child I was told I needed to control all those urges in order to be a good Christian; that I was too impulsive, I was too boisterous, and though my intentions were good, my execution was all wrong -- not what God would approve. I tried to fix it. I tried to be more practical, more soft-spoken. I'd read the stories about the women in the Bible, and tried to do things the way Ruth would do them, or Mary. They were blessed, exalted women; true women of God. Can you imagine how frustrating it was for an eight year old to try to become a gleaning widow? I'm sure I didn't even know what gleaning was. Or to picture myself glowing angelically, and gloriously belting out the Magnificat like some character in a Broadway produced nativity scene, and try to become that? Needless to say, I never succeeded. I felt as though I was not being who I really was. I felt like I was trying to become holy, and while everyone else liked that kind of thing, I didn't. It was easier to give up than to struggle that way. God had just made me wrong for the Christian life. I'd been put here by a God who didn't even love me enough to give me a fighting chance to be what I was supposed to be, to be what He wanted.

So what has changed? For one, I have gone from being a hopeless romantic, to a hope-filled romantic. You see, what I failed to realize until very much later in life, is that none of us has a chance on our own. Put a seersucker suit on a pig, and it's still a pig in a seersucker suit. God isn't interested in any of us changing who we are; He wants to change what we are. A lost romantic, to a Spirit-guided romantic. A sinful introvert, to a Christ-purified introvert. A Godless sanguine, to a God-loving sanguine. Once He changes our status, our position before Him, we are free to become whomever we desire to be. Oh, I'm not gonna say being with Him doesn't alter those desires a bit, but if we trust God is who He says He is, it's all good -- the Bible says so: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)

When I became a mother, I didn't just decide to "act more maternal." I was still very much the person I was moments before my child arrived, but it was his presence that instantly changed me from a childless twenty-something to a mother. What I was. And it was my growing love for my child that transformed me from self-centered and impulsive, to other-centered and responsible. Who I was. It didn't happen overnight. I made mistakes; I still do. On my own, it can be a disappointing struggle; but with God's direction, I have that fighting chance. Love gives me a desire to change, a desire to be a good mom with every fiber of my being.

The Holy Spirit has shown me, no matter what my current role, some of those romantic tendencies are exactly what He needs from me. My passion for life keeps me striving to do better all the time. The fact I am content in solitude gives me a love of nature I enjoy sharing with others, and for years, allowed me to concentrate on my job as a homeschooling mom without feeling robbed of a social life. Being so close to my emotions helps me empathize with others; and some of the mistakes that came out of my impulses taught me to recognize those same tendencies in others, and help them through difficulties.

No matter who God has made you, or even who you've become along the way, there is a God who wants you to know Him. A God who is in His very essence, love. A God who wants only the best for you. A God who will not leave you or abandon you. A God who, the moment you declare your desire to love Him, will change what you are. A God who, as you walk with Him daily and grow to love Him more and more, will inspire and direct you to become the best "who" you can be. Even if you've got a little bit of a romantic left in you.