Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A View from the Sideline

Psalm 37:7  Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him

Ugh.  Why is it that when God teaches you some profound and exciting new glimpse of Truth, He always allows for an opportunity to have that nugget of gold refined of its impurities? 

I was flying high yesterday, starting quarterback in the championship game of life (I've got to get away from these sports analogies - can you tell I have 4 brothers?)  I had Skillet's new song Awake and Alive cranked on my cassette player in my mini-van (the epitome of cool mom right there!) and I literally had goosebumps at the feeling of joy and alertness that I had for God and His goodness.  I had a wonderfully worshipful time at church, taught a class alongside my husband and grilled yummy quesadillas for my grateful kids.  Life was good and I was fully engaged.

I spent the rest of the evening with a friend who has experienced great trial and tragedy in her life over the last couple months.  Almost more than one person can rightly handle.  As she asked me HARD questions about God's character, my words felt hollow and inadequate.  I didn't know what to say to her to make the pain go away.  I flipped through my Bible and every word seemed trite and simplistic in the face of her suffering.  I left feeling heavy.

Phil came home late and I shared my burden with him.  He proceeded to tell me of an indiscretion that I had committed and explained there may be backlash from my careless words.  On top of feeling the weight of pain with my friend, I now had to battle the feelings of dread and shame over my sin.  Like the cartoon character that falls in the snow and rolls down the hill gathering speed and girth, I was careening out of control.  My firm grasp on God's glory from earlier in the day was slipping through my fingers.

After a brief and fitful night's sleep, I awoke with a sense of urgency.  I am out of the game - sidelined by my own swirling mass of fear, unbelief and doubt.  I went back to the only place I knew to turn - my Bible. 

How do I fight Lord? 
What do I do? 

As I flipped again through the pages, I noticed a recurring theme as I skimmed Psalms and Isaiah.  WAIT ON THE LORD.  What more can I offer my dear devastated sister?   What more can I do in a situation that may require repenting and reconciliation in the future?  The peace of God settled upon me and I once again entered His rest - I was back in the game - hoping in Him, believing in Him, waiting on Him to be our faithful Redeemer.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How are YOU Taken out of the Game?

2 Peter 1:8  For if these qualities (faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, love) are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A friend recently asked me a very provocative question: 

If you were your worst enemy, how would you take yourself out?

WOW.  I was stunned and had to gather my thoughts to even answer.  And then, a terrifyingly clear picture of the slow decline towards stagnation came to mind as the all too familiar scene plays out...

It's been a long day of teaching the kids and keeping the house running smoothly but I realize I slept in this morning and didn't read my Bible.  I really should crack it open but a quick check of my e-mail inbox lures me.  Ellie walks in and says she needs my help and instead of laying aside Hotmail, I lay aside an opportunity to pour into my daughter.  "You deserve a little time to yourself" I hear whispered in my ear and my weary heart drinks in the justified respite.  Dinner rolls around and the slide towards checking out of fruitful engagement in my family's life gains momentum as I pour myself a glass of wine.  Just one, I reason, no big deal... (AND IT ISN'T a big deal if my heart is in a place of worshipping Christ and not on the slippery slope towards worshipping my comfort - my desire to check out this evening)  I go to bed early, figuring I can start fresh in the morning but knowing somewhere deep inside that I am far from Jesus.  For an evening, I've taken myself out of the game.  I'm not playing offense, I'm not playing defense - I'm sitting in the locker room with a towel over my head.

I do have an Enemy that is bent on my destruction and desires to sideline me.  He is crafty and cunning but he is not all powerful.  He is already defeated.  The truth is - I AM my own worst enemy.  By buying in to my smooth self-talk that is loaded with excuses and justifications,  I am rendered ineffective and unfruitful for the Gospel.  My husband likes to point out to me that regardless of the means by which I find myself stuck - Satan or Self - it is my responsibility to fight my way out.  If Satan has launched a full-scale assault of lies and accusation on my soul - I must cling to Truth and grasp the Sword to engage the battle.  If my own sin and folly, I must repent and turn my face towards Jesus.  Either way, I am not off the hook.  I must continue entrusting myself to the One who will save me, redeem me and restore me to a place of fruitful, effective knowledge of Jesus' sufficiency.

How are YOU taken out of the Game?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wake Up, O Sleeper

Ephesians 5:13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:
"Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

I feel like I am emerging from a sleepy fog. We sang a worship song yesterday at church that had this verse in it and I felt God speaking to my heart, "Good morning Sleepyhead - it's about time you woke up!"

The truth is that because He has called me to Himself and saved me, I AM AWAKE! I have been risen from the ranks of the spiritually dead and Christ's radiance IS shining on me. I could never be more awake and alert than I am right now - He has roused me from the coma of sin and death, granting me bright-eyed, bushy-tailed life in Him.

The problem is , I often choose to draw the curtains, snuggle down into bed and ask Jesus to turn down the wattage a bit because He is disturbing my slumber.

"Please, just one more hour, Jesus?" I beg.
"I'm not ready to get up".

I don't want to have to get out of bed, letting the light expose my heart. I don't want to have to love my husband and kids and neighbor in the selfless, sacrificial way that you call me to. I don't want to have to persevere through the mundane moments of life - can't I just sleep it off?

As the Glory of Christ continues to flood my self-absorbed heart, it warms to His presence and the idea that He is inviting me to a life far more glorious than I could even DREAM of. He invites me to let His light shine on me and through me, serving and loving others in a way that is completely foreign to me. He lures me out of bed with the promise that while initially life may feel less cozy and warm than my cocoon spun of temporal safety and comfort, it is far more abundant. It is awake and alive with the promise that He is near and He will never sleep so I AM FREE to sleep when I am weary but don't HAVE TO sleep to shut out the pain and sorrow of the world.

Time to wake up, Sleepyhead, a Life awaits with plenty of Light for the dark roads.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls and the Glory of God

Matthew 17:20 He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

I can hardly believe it happened but as my olfactory system is still overwhelmed with the aroma of cinnamon - it must be. I baked cinnamon rolls from scratch this morning. On top of that, I didn't go to bed last night til almost 1. You may not know this about me, but this chain of events is amazing on 2 fronts:

1. I am not a baker - never have been, never really want to be

2. I love sleep even more than the gooey goodness of sticky buns

So, what led me to stay up WAY past my bedtime and get up WAY too early? This is where the glory of God comes in. Despite having more on my plate and in my heart than ever, I have a peace about me that can only be described as a gift from above. God has placed before me the tasks of being His devoted daughter, a godly wife, homeschooling 3 children, helping teach in the Pre-Marrieds ministry, writing on several projects and finding time to nurture relationships with family and friends. I believe He has put me under the pile to make it ridiculously clear that I can do nothing without His favor and grace. Any one of those tasks is insurmountable on my own; all combined are simply impossible but for His empowering grace.

I stayed up late thinking and praying about opportunities that would seemingly compete with my first and obvious priorities - God, husband, children. I got carried away with the dreamy possiblities of how God may choose to use me as an instrument in others lives. And yet, my heart was filled with an overwhelming desire to serve my kids by baking them a special meal. It was as if God said to me, "Jen, anything I call you to do for My name will only confirm and deepen your love for Me and your family not draw you away from Me or them."

And that is how I found myself experiencing the Glory of God - wooed by the idea that God may allow me to influence others on a large scale and realizing the profound importance of wooing my children's hearts on a small scale - with dough and frosting.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who's It Gonna Be: Him or Me?

Romans 1:25 they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

As I sit on the cusp of another week, I am reminded of the Truth that God showed me recently. The words are simple; the execution difficult: Who are you going to worship? Every day is a series of seemingly small decisions that reveal my heart each time. I make a choice FOR Jesus or FOR myself from the very first moments of the day when my alarm shrieks in my ear. Hitting snooze and neglecting the quiet moments at the start of the day to orient my heart towards worship of Christ reveals what I truly worship.

As the day progresses and it seems like hours that I've given up for my kids (it HAS been hours...), my heart begins to crave satisfaction in the worship of stuff and not God. Maybe it's a candy bar, a trip to Starbucks or 20 minutes on Facebook - I am seeking comfort and pleasure in something other than God. Each of those items are not inherently evil on their own. It is what they become to me as I sink my claws of entitlement and demand deeper into them. Am I even giving God an opportunity to meet me right then and there? No, He's not sweet enough, fast enough, interesting enough in that moment. I fall for the age-old lie and make a terrible trade: Him for me.

God has been so faithful and gracious to me to give me a glimpse of what true worship of Him does for my heart and soul. It fills me, encourages and completes unlike anything else. Humbling myself to magnify Him naturally brings me to a place of brokenness and repentance. How can I but want to confess my sin and close the distance I've created when I look deeply into my Savior's eyes and receive grace, forgiveness and acceptance - EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I will awake to this song on my lips:
Psalm 99:5 Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!
And begin another day asking myself: Who's it gonna be?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cheerleader or Linebacker?

My husband Phil is talented in so many ways. One of his gifts is being able to create analogies and describe people or situations with vivid word pictures. He came up with one to describe me this morning that was painfully accurate and a bit humorous, if not convicting. I have been a bit intense recently. As I was once again responding to him with a completely over-the-top retort to a simple question asked, he informed me that he wants to see me be more of a cheerleader and less of a linebacker in our home.

He remembered this commercial to illustrate his point:

I had to laugh. I wanted to cry. He is so right - I have been a linebacker. I have overreacted, freaked out and bowled over anyone that gets in my way.

I don't know much about football but I do know that a linebacker is a big, beefy guy whose sole purpose is to smear the guy across the line from him. He is not interested in gentle, polite persuasion. He makes his point with a shoulder pad to the groin.

A cheerleader, on the other hand, is an encourager. "Go, Team, Go!" she shouts enthusiastically from the sidelines. Her identity is grounded in being a beacon of hope yelling shouts of praise and acclamation despite the score on the board.

I realize this little sports analogy breaks down quickly and certainly isn't a blueprint for life but it did give me some good perspective on myself. I desire to influence with hope not intimidation, encouragement not brute force.

My prayer tonight: Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

The ponderings of my heart will burst forth from my mouth. Lord, continue to change me so I am more and more the cheerleader and less the linebacker. May others RECOGNIZE You in me.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tears and Fears for the First Day of School

Tomorrow, for many of us mothers, marks a day wrought with mixed emotions. For those of you sending kids back to school, I can only imagine a swirling tornado of sadness over the lazy days of summer come and gone mixed with a bit of glee at the prospect of settling back into a routine where the kids won't be under foot all day. (I could be totally wrong on that one and I'm willing to hear about it. I daydream about that mixture of emotions for you and project what I imagine I would be feeling.)

For me, as a homeschool mom, it is a day that stirs up and exposes some of my most raw emotions. I have already spent a good part of today feeling overwhelmed with the daunting task of being my children's mother, teacher, discipler and friend. I want to be planning with great joy and expectancy all of the valuable lessons we'll learn together this year - both from the books and in our hearts - but I am paralyzed with fear and dread. I simultaneously battle wanting to treasure these special days at home fully engaged with my children and wanting to drop them off at the curb of the local elementary school. I love homeschooling and I hate homeschooling. I love it when I am worshipping Jesus and peacefully submitting to the call He has placed on my life for this season. I hate it when I am worshipping myself and do not want to bear the responsibility of being the constant source of influence, education and inspiration for my kids. It is beautiful and ugly, exhausting and exhilirating - it is a picture of redemption in our family. God working in each one of us His plan to make us more like Him. For reasons unknown to me at times, God has marked out this path for me on the way to Christlikeness. Every moment of every day of homeschooling becomes an opportunity to model to my children what I tell them constantly - they need Jesus and so do I.

As I spewed tears and fears at my husband, he calmly asked the children to leave the room. He proceeded to listen to my scewed and irrational thinking and gently corrected me. He pointed me toward Truth and the ultimate source of my homeschooling success and assuaged fears - JESUS. As I was allowing his words to soak in, I heard some giggling and whispering upstairs. My 3 sweet students has changed clothes into their Sunday best and marched down the stairs in a single-file line - not unlike the Von Trapp family. They all proceeded to ask for my forgiveness for moments of disobedience and chaos that helped contribute to my place of utter desperation. They each in turn shared from their hearts about what great parents we were and how much they loved us. And then, they prayed. They thanked our Lord for this family and my 8 year old daughter asked God to help me always look to Him first.

And that, I remembered through tears of brokenness, gratitude and joy is what worship is all about - every moment of my life, looking to Jesus and recognizing His tender loving grace.