Monday, October 28, 2013

Stingy

I was in two places at once.  I was on my way to buy the day's food at the outdoor market, and lost deep in ancient Palestine where Jesus is rebuked by the Pharisees for not making his disciples wash their hands before dinner. (Earbuds in, I smiled to myself; I wonder how the Pharisees would have felt about Purell?)  Then Jesus taught them that compared to the stuff that comes out of people, food or a few germs for that matter have no power to pollute.  He said: 

What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.  For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. (Mark 7:21-22 NKJV)

Jesus seems to be saying that from deep inside of us, from our sinful hearts, comes the external actions that appear so clearly as sin to others.  I hate that.  I want to pretend that when I do something bad it was a one-off, an accident, that I was having a bad day or was just surprised and didn't know what to do.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Biblical Ugly Word

What's the worst thing you can think of to call a fellow Christian?  What?  You don't think Christians call each other names? Oh, we don't use curse words; instead we find Bible words to call one another.  One I've heard a lot lately is "Pharisee."  Often when I hear that word, it is aimed at a Christian who tries to obey God and thinks you should too. 

Calling someone a Pharisee is a serious charge.  After all, Jesus called them a brood of vipers and ascribed eight woes to them.  Before we call someone this Biblical ugly word, we had better know what it means.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Tale of Two Sins

I told you that I discovered Stuart Briscoe on the local Bible radio station.  Since then, I have bought one of his books, Holiness Without the Halo, and listened to several of his Telling the Truth podcasts.  In them, he uses Scripture to tackle the topic of sin and how to defeat it with remarkable grace.  

Sin is something we struggle with every day, and it isn't always the "obvious" sins that give me the most trouble. In the book, Mr. Briscoe talks about two lifestyles of sin that seem opposite at first.  In his discussion of Paul's letter to the Galatians and our freedom in Christ, he addresses legalism and licentiousness.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lessons from the Gym

Highgrove Gym
"You going to the gym today?"  This was a frequent question around my parents' house this summer while we were vacationing in America.  For my husband's birthday, I bought him, my mom, and myself a one month gym membership. While exercising, I couldn't help but think of Paul's saying how "bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (I Timothy 4:8).  In I Corinthians he talks again about disciplining his body in order to lead the life that he should live (9:27).  I believe that one reason he uses this terminology in relation to our Christian walk is that it is easy to make parallels between the physical discipline of exercise and the spiritual disciplines.  Looking back on that month of exercise, I learned some lessons that apply to my Bible reading as well as to other areas of my spiritual life.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Running Buddies

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My husband and I are running again.  I told you before we are (slowly) training for a 5k, right?  So there we were back at the track after vacation.  We'd done our first 8 minute run, walked our 5 minutes and then he said it...

"Honey, I think I'm going to ease into this."  

I replied, "You mean you're going to walk?  That's ok.  But I'm going to run."  

He sighed.  And guess what?  He ran.  About half-way through the eternity that was 8 minutes of running, I was thinking, "This is totally a mistake.  I should have walked..." Then I looked over my shoulder at him running beside me.  I took a deep breath...and I ran.  

Everybody needs a running buddy. Somebody who is going to meet us at the track so we actually go. Somebody we can follow when we don't feel like running anymore. Someone who is counting on us so we don't give up.  

You need a running buddy too - a spiritual one. I want to suggest a few for you.  

1. The Sprinter

Romans 12 says, "not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." It's a passage describing the new life in Christ Jesus.  I'd love to be that girl who never lags behind the others, but sometimes I am the girl who is in the back of the pack hating the next step and sucking wind.  I need to see the diligence and fervency of a sister who is sprinting up ahead of me.  I need someone to set the standard so I can keep going. Not only do I need a track friend, I need a Christian friend who invites me to co-teach a class with her, who calls me when she is going to visit the sick to see if I want to come, who assumes that I'm going to be enthusiastic when she's collecting for "Coats for the cold." I need someone to follow!

2. The First Responder

Why do we really need running buddies?  Solomon pictures it this way in Ecclesiastes.  

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. 

Because heaven help us if we break a leg and we are all alone!  In our Christian race these first responders to our emergencies.  James 5 says: 

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

I have friends that love me fiercely. Don't you?   I know that if I ever gave up, stopped worshiping, stopped praying, and stopped running, they would be on me like white on rice.  They'd be on Facebook, email, Skype and the phone.  They would never let me fall quietly without a word.  "Woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up."  

3. The Finisher

This guy is up in front of us.  He sets the pace.  He shows us the route.  We say to ourselves, "If he can keep going we can too."  In fact, it's a lot easier to look at him than to hang our heads and watch our feet fall.  He'll help us stick to it.  All we need to do is...

Run with endurance the race that is set before us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Hebrews suggests that we not only have Jesus who runs ahead of us but we have a stadium full of the faithful watching us run. The Old Testament is full of them: Noah, Abraham, Jochebed, Moses, Rahab and a host of others.  Not only that, but later the Hebrew writer points out that our leaders also run ahead of us setting a path that we can successfully follow. (Hebrews 13:7) When our churches are healthy, each set of elders and their godly wives illustrates following Jesus in our local circumstances in a pattern we can imitate. 

There's one lesson here, I think we can't neglect.  All of these runners, run with us. No one makes it to the end of the Christian life alone.  It's a life surrounded by witnesses; each one following the footsteps of the Author and Finisher of our Faith. It's a life alongside of faithful sisters and brothers who help and are helped by us. Look around. Don't neglect your running buddies.  They need you as much as you need them.   
Helene
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Care and Feeding of Tweens

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Of the three of us girls who write for Maidservants of Christ, I have the oldest child.  At 12 my brown-eyed girl is all of our vanguard into the world of tweens.   I've been exploring the ways that I can bring our Whatsoever Wednesday model to life for her.  

As homeschoolers, we've always studied "Bible" a bit like we did math.  Get a curriculum, read the material, do the exercises.  I've long thought of Bible as the most interesting academic topic I've ever studied.  That's not a terrible way for an introverted nerd to relate to the Word of God, but it is limited.  As I've grown, I wanted her to grow too-in service, in study and in heart.

Friday, October 18, 2013

When Emotions Run Riot

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As I grow more mature in Christ, He makes me more aware of my sin -- I can't get close to His light without seeing the darkness of sin in my life.  One of the things He has shown me lately is that I sin the most when my emotions are running high.  I get angry and say hurtful things to the people I love; I am sad and take more comfort in food that in my Savior; I become anxious and try to handle the pressures of life myself instead of joyfully casting them upon the Lord.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Faith and Imagination

Have you ever thought about the role imagination plays in your faith?  Um...not me.  

I am girl with imagination.  Tons.   When my girls were babies I spontaneously made up dialogue for them and spoke both parts.  My husband contends that they were early talkers out of self-defense.  My kids have survived many a long bus or train ride by begging, "Tell us a story!" I am a long-term lover of novels, poetry and finding the pictures in clouds.  

But when I recently read Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster, I stumbled with some suspicion over his emphasis on imagination as an important part of meditation, prayer and Bible study. "Isn't using our "imagination" the exact opposite of knowing the truth?  We don't need to "imagine" things about God," I mumbled to myself, "because he revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ." 

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Servant in My House

"I am not a servant in this house!"  That is what my five-year old emphatically declared when I asked her to take out the trash.  She hates that job above all others.  Have you ever seen someone under 4 feet tall try to put on her shoes, hold the trash bag and never let go of her nose?  It's a sight.  

I took the trash from her hand, snagged a nearby stool with my foot and sat down with her on my lap.  Then we had a heart to heart about what it means to be a servant and how Jesus became a servant.  We recited "taking the form of a bond-servant and being found in appearance as a man."  I gave her a hug and reluctantly she picked up the plastic bag.

I walked away wondering if she understood the lesson.  Not the one about obedience; she got that!  I wonder if she got the one about pride and humility.  Maybe the better question is did I absorb the lesson?  And if I didn't how do I start? 

It seems lessons on "service" are everywhere.  I went to Amazon and typed in "servant leader" and I found pages full of business books teaching how to be great leaders by engaging in service.  I'm not criticizing; who wouldn't like to see the business world follow more of Jesus's principles? 

Yet a recent re-reading of Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline," brought me this painful line, "In service we must experience the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves.  Service banishes us to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial."  Mundane service isn't the kind that people write books about.  It's the kind of service we find in a family. 

Families, especially ones with small children, run on service.  Dishes must be washed, floors swept, groceries bought.  Children must be bathed, hair must be brushed, and homework has to be checked.  

Every family does it-some better, some not so good. Yet I dare say not every person doing the service is being transformed by it into the likeness of their Savior (John 13:1-7, Philippians 2:1-13).  In fact, in many young mothers, the seeds of bitterness that will grow into 30 years worth of grumbling, anger, and discontent are sown in the laundry, the diapers and the dishes.  

I have been there.  

My five-year old is there, right now.  "I am not a servant in this house!" 

Yet there is no other situation in my life where I have a greater opportunity to serve in secret, in silence, and in humility.  Where else can I truly serve and be rewarded by my Father? Jesus harshly condemned religious activity like fasting and prayer to be seen of men.  Service that gains me an earthly reward does not gain me a heavenly one (Matthew 6).  Serving at work earns me a wage.  Serving as a volunteer earns me a pat on the back. Serving at church earns me the gratitude of my leaders and the encouragement of my friends.  But trust me, no one pays me to scrub the bathtub.  No one even knows I scrub the nasty thing.  They might notice if I stopped...I'm not sure.  

Sometimes I wish I could put my "real" life on hold.  I could go to a convent, a retreat center, or a cabin in the woods and try to grow as a Christian.  I could spend hours a day in Bible reading, stay up all night praying, and plan how I was going out into the world in humility like Mother Teresa to serve the down-trodden.  And yet the trouble is that very image is overlain not with piety but a desire to escape the actual service God is calling me to. 

Real humility, real growth is here, in the dishes and the dirty tub, in being a real servant in my house.
   
Helene

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Nothing to Offer

Cela
I sat in the meeting with many questions in my heart.  Our congregation is considering involvement in a prison ministry, and we were listening to the director of the ministry tell about the needs of the prisoners.  My questions were not about the ministry itself.  I knew that Jesus commands us to visit those in prison, and this particular organization had been helping people for a long time, baptizing and making disciples.  No, the questions were much more personal.

I know nothing about the world these women have lived in.  How can I help them?

I'm a "good girl" who has never had to struggle for anything in my life.  How can I relate to these women?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

An Electronic Fast

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Isn't it annoying when someone uses technology to tell you that you are using too much technology?  Like a Facebook post about how we all spend too much time on Facebook?  Yeah, it's obnoxious.  So I'm not gonna do that.  Not exactly.   What I am going to do is to tell you why I decided that I needed an electronic fast, and what taking one day off from electronics did for me.  Understand that I don't think everyone who has a Facebook account spends too much time on it, nor do I think everyone needs to take a day off technology. This is about confession, not judgment. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Freedom in Christ


Bunch of bullies! That's what I was thinking as my friend told me about some recent conversations in her life. She fits the classic profile of a homeschooler, yet she and her husband carefully, prayerfully, for their own good reasons send their kids to public school. I'm a Christian, submissive wife and dedicated mom (at least I try), college-graduate and I work at least half-time.  That's a decision my husband and I made together. We feel strongly that my work is for the Kingdom and that it's good and right. I know that people disagree. I know that women especially are tempted to a subtle, divisive and smiling sort of comparison that leaves the victim wondering, "Did they mean to be unkind?" It happens; we've written before about it. (You're With UsImaginary JudgesParty Pooper).  

However, recently I have seen less and less grace. Homeschoolers who present a polished view of their home-life looking down their noses at their sisters helping kids with homework. Women, who have chosen to wear only skirts and dresses, casting the fish eye on their sister in her modest pants.   Women who after prayer and study go back to work condemned or condemning. Relaxed moms rolling their eyes at the conscientious ones who forbid TV, internet, and games to their tots. Women who are satisfied with their one or two children blasted on a blog by those who cheerfully accept all the children God will give to them. We won't even stray over to the graceless way we pursue political ends or make health and environmental decisions regarding our children.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Rocking the Christian Shirt

When I was a tween and young teenager, I was all about wearing Christian things.  I had a cross necklace, a Fear Not shirt, and a WWJD bracelet (I guess that dates me!).  As I got older, I started to become more uncomfortable wearing these symbols publicly.  I felt like people who saw me should see Christ in my actions, not in my clothes.  I also felt pretentious.  I didn't want to be viewed as the kind of Christian who would wear a Jesus shirt just to show off.  And of course, there was always the fear that I would act a fool while wearing a cross and give God a bad name. So I put my cross away.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Presence of God

I am currently reading a Christian classic, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.  It's a fascinating glimpse into the life of a man whose career culminated in washing dishes and fixing sandals. He seemed remarkably satisfied. 

I started reading it because it is the foundational work in the spiritual discipline called "presence."  I first learned about it when I read Holy Parenting.  I saw references to it on a blog or two and then recently when I read Celebration of Discipline the book came up again.  So, I looked it up on ccel.org (an online mostly free library of Christian Classics) and started to read.