Saturday, June 25, 2022

dangers of affirmation

When my daughter was about 3, she would have told you, without hesitation, that she wasn't a little girl--she was a puppy. She would be a puppy at the grocery store, much to my embarrassment. She was committed, let me tell you. There was more than once that we had to get onto her for licking somebody or for barking in response to a question she was asked, or to tell her to get up off the floor and walk on her feet instead of crawling on all fours.

Why do I bring that up? Because we have somehow decided that kids are capable of making life-altering decisions when they are at an age when it used to be considered completely developmentally normal for them to pretend to be any number of things, from a puppy to a train. What has never been normal, though, is to tell a child that they actually are whatever they are pretending to be.

Now, though, we're supposed to go along with whatever someone is pretending to be. 

We've come to a point in our society where it has somehow become "normal" to have to ask what someone's pronouns are before speaking to them. People have started putting their pronouns in their email signature. If you "misgender" someone, you're considered a hateful bigot. We have the concept of "deadnaming" someone, meaning you call somebody by the name they were given instead of the name they chose for themself when they "transitioned." We are supposed to "affirm" everyone, and to even suggest that it could be harmful marks you as hateful. And now, there's even a trans-Barbie (not a joke, though I wish it was) and drag queen story hour--and yet we're not supposed to think that our kids are being targeted by LGBTQWXYZ-activists?

Pronoun cards 2016-02
from https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/

What has happened to us?

It has even come to the point where we are being told we are possibly breaking the law if we don't use someone's "preferred pronouns." Think about that for a second--if you don't use the specific term someone has decided they like the most, you could be committing a crime. That's not something that should happen in the United States, something that has been obvious since the 1st Amendment came into being.

More importantly, though, the ideology of transgenderism not something that people who claim to be followers of Christ should be going along with.

As Christians, we are supposed to believe that each one of us is an individual who was created by God with inherent value simply because we are a child of God. We are supposed to believe that God knows what He's doing and that He doesn't mess up. We are supposed to believe that God designed the world we live in, and that what He designed was good. That means that when God created my daughter, He specifically chose to create her as a little girl--not a puppy...or a boy.

Why is it a big deal? You'll hear a lot of people claim that the loving thing to do is to just go along with it, to call people whatever they want to be called. The problem with that is two-fold.

First and foremost, to go along with the ideas of transgenderism and sexual identity politics is to go against God's word. It is to blatantly say that biological truth doesn't exist (what happened to "follow the science"?), that biblical authority doesn't exist, that God's truth doesn't exist. There is only one truth. It isn't subjective. It doesn't matter what your "lived experience" is, or what seems true to any one person. God's word is truth, and if we say anything different, we have no right to claim that anything in the Bible is true. Jesus Himself confirmed that, saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6)

People twist that thought, saying that if we believe that God doesn't make mistakes we have to believe that God made people with sexuality or gender issues "just the way they are" and therefore they are just living out their true, authentic selves and God would be happy with that. The problem is, that's just plainly not biblical. God created us, but ever since sin was first introduced into the Garden we are all born into a fallen world. The whole story of salvation is that in our own fallen, human self, none of us is good enough. We are all sinners, and we have no chance of being right with God unless we repent of our sins. Repenting means turning completely away from the things that go against God's will, no matter how much we want to do them. It's not easy and it's not popular, but that's not a surprise either: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow is the gate and difficult the way that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14) We are called to set aside our old lives and every sin that holds us back to pursue Christ. That means that my thoughts and plans for myself, no matter what they are, have to become secondary to God's plan.

Second, it isn't loving to go along with someone when they are doing something that is harmful to them. It isn't a popular opinion, but I truly believe that the vast majority of people dealing with issues related to gender and sexuality are people who are struggling with much deeper hurts. That's backed by studies that have shown that someone changing their appearance to look like the opposite gender doesn't reduce their risk of suicide or improve their mental health. If someone is trying to cover up a deep wound by hiding behind something that is, in the long run, going to cause them nothing but pain, what is loving about cheering them on?

It's here that I'm reminded of Jesus with the woman who was brought to Him after being caught in adultery. First, the fact that she was "caught in adultery" comes with it's own set of questions--why didn't they bring the man, too? And how in the world did they catch her? Second, though, is how Jesus addressed her after all the men wanting her stoned had left. He didn't excuse her actions. He didn't tell her that He loved her just the way she was. Instead, He told her, "Go, and sin no more." He didn't condemn her, but He didn't excuse her sin, either. He didn't affirm her choices, just like He doesn't affirm ours when they go against God.

We as followers of Christ need to find a better way to reach out to hurting people--I have no doubts about that, and no doubt that these are hurting people. When the Obama administration looked into sex-reassignment surgeries, they found that people who had undergone such surgeries were 19xs more likely to commit suicide. That leaves very little doubt about the true depths of pain these people are feeling. We need to do better about offering true hope to the world around us.

That doesn't mean, though, that we ignore God's will. It doesn't mean that we brush off the things He condemns. Yes, we can come to God just as we are. That's something we should all be incredibly thankful for, because otherwise we would all be in a mess. The thing is, the fact that we can come to God just as we are doesn't mean we can stay that way after. God demands changed lives. He demands that we die to the past in order to live for eternity with Him. He demands that we sacrifice ourselves and our desires--our only identity after coming to Him is the identity we find in Him, and we are called to continually strive to become like Him.

I wish this was an issue that didn't have to be addressed. It makes no sense to be talking about using the right pronouns for people, or affirming their gender identity. For thousands of years, people have known that boys grow up to be men and girls grow up to be women, as is determined by biology and always has been (yes, I know intersex is a thing... that affects roughly 0.05% of people). It isn't something that can be ignored, though, because it's something that's being pushed to our kids. Blue's Clues, a t.v. show aimed at pre-schoolers, had an episode with a "Pride Parade". Public libraries host drag queen story time. Kids are taken to events like "Drag the Kids to Pride" where they are exposed to men dressed in skimpy women's clothing who dance in front of them while the kids are encouraged to stuff dollar bills into their waistbands. Kids movies show same sex couples kissing, and those who oppose it are "idiots" who will "die off like dinosaurs." And now, parents are being told that they are unfit if they refuse to "affirm" their daughter saying she's supposed to be a boy. Health clinics are starting to say that kids as young as 12 can hide their medical charts from their parents, despite the fact that it has long been understood that minors can't make health decisions for themselves.

Even if you disagree with me on quite literally everything else, think about the insanity of letting a kid make a life-altering decision simply because we are supposed to go along with their personal views. We have age limits on pretty much everything in society because we have long acknowledge the fact that kids simply aren't capable of making certain decisions for themselves. Besides just personal observations, we have science to back up that kids' brains aren't fully developed until they are in their mid 20s at least (though many researchers say it's more likely the 30s). When kids are put on hormone blockers to "affirm their identity," or worse yet, subjected to surgeries that are supposed to change their sex (a biological impossibility), they are doing things that will affect the rest of their lives. They are being put at risk of low bone density, stunted growth, and future infertility. That doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of all the mental and emotional issues. Kids are being allowed to make decisions that are based on thinking logically, planning for the future, and weighing risks and benefits before their brains are actually developed enough to consider those things. Kids can't even be counted on to have the same likes and dislikes from one week to the next, so why let them make decisions like this? That's something that has to be considered since as much as 20% of those who identify as transgender in the U.S. are between the ages of 13 and 17.

This isn't something we can just ignore, hoping it will go away or saying it isn't any of our business.


Wednesday, June 8, 2022

protect your kids

Our kids are under attack, and it seems like we're just going along with it. I don't mean from violence like the recent school shooting that devastated a community and has left so many families reeling. Things like that are obvious, and we have no issue taking a stand against them. We may not know exactly what we need to do, but we all agree that it is something we can't tolerate.

What I'm talking about is something more subtle. What I'm talking about is a battle for the souls of our children, and it's a battle the enemy seems to be fighting with no resistance from those of us who are supposed to the protectors.

When was the last time you watched something that promoted traditional, Christian values? Something that didn't show "alternative" lifestyles or people hopping into bed with each other as things that are totally normal and acceptable? Or maybe the more important question, when was the last time you stopped watching a tv show or movie with your kids because it promoted something you believe is wrong?

We as parents are failing our children. We are handing them over to the world, letting their values and character be determined by people who don't just disagree with our views, but think our values are outdated, hateful, and bigoted. We are giving them to a world that holds "Drag the Kids to Pride" events (as a word of warning, that link goes to disturbing content). We are handing them over to a world that tells them biology doesn't matter, that there's no distinction between men and women (while at the same time telling them men are evil and dangerous by nature and that all women should be believed... and telling them that they should "trust the science"). We are relinquishing them to a world that says there is nothing wrong with killing babies right up to the moment of birth. We are letting a world that hates God determine what our kids see as right and wrong.

The world says:

  • truth doesn't matter
  • everyone should just do whatever makes them happy
  • that you are being "literally violent" if you don't call a man pretending to be a woman by his "preferred pronouns"
  • religion should stay out of politics
  • you only become a human with rights once you leave the womb
  • sex is part of everyday interactions
  • self-expression is one of the most important things
  • kids should be taught about "sexual identity" at school, starting as young as possible
  • social justice and equity should be the focus
Parents, we can't just go along with the world. We can't give our kids over to a worldly belief that being happy here and now is what matters most. Instead, we have to refocus on what matters. We have to remember that Jesus once told the disciples,
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin,
it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck,
and he were drowned in the depth of the sea."
(Matthew 18:6)

It is our job to protect our kids. It's our job to raise them up to be the men and women God wants them to be, and that's not an easy task in a world doing everything it can to turn them away from Him. Because that's the whole battle, isn't it? Like James warned,
"Don’t you know that making friends with this corrupt world order
is open aggression toward God?
So anyone who aligns with this bogus world system
is declaring war against the one true God."
(James 4:4)
 
The world is set against God. That means we're fighting an enemy that doesn't play fair, which is something we lose sight of. As parents, we need to be as "shrewd as serpents" when it comes to protecting our kids. We don't need to shield them from all the horrors of this world--we need to teach them God's truth so they will have the strength to stand against the arrows the enemy hurls at them. We need to teach them what God says to combat what the world says:
 Stop letting the world tell your kids what's right and wrong. Stop letting the world determine their values. Speak up when they see something that contradicts God's word. Tell them the truth, even when it isn't popular. Teach them to make the hard decisions.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Memorial Day 2022


 May this Memorial Day serve as a time to renew your dedication to the restoration of our nation as the beacon of hope it used to be to the rest of the world. May we all dedicate ourselves to living lives that honor those who gave their lives to defend and preserve our nation.

Stand for truth,
refuse to cower,
honor equality over equity,
value justice,
and remember our rights are from God, not men.


"He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?"

(Micah 6:8)

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Uvalde

 I wish I had more than words to offer. I wish I could somehow take the pain of families in the midst of unbelievable agony right now, that I could somehow offer them hope and comfort. More than anything, I wish I could give those parents back their babies and bring back the heroic teachers who tried to shield their students.

This world is broken, and sometimes it's made painfully obvious by people who do unspeakable evil.

In these moments, everyone is searching for answers. Everyone wants to figure out something to do, something that will somehow stop the hurting. We try to find meaning in the unimaginable, try to make sense of an atrocious act.

Can I offer some advice? If you know these families--or anyone facing grief--you don't have to offer answers. You don't have to come up with reasons. You don't have to try to find the silver lining or the lesson to be learned. Don't turn their tragedy into a talking point or something political. Instead, just sit with them in their grief. Cry with them. Listen to them. Let them rant. Let them question. Let them tell stories. Try, for whatever time you're around them, to at least share the weight of their grief, because though it is unimaginable to those of us who haven't gone through it, thieir grief is something we are called to help bear.

So in your own time, pray for them. Pray for comfort from the One who understands their pain, the One who watched His own innocent Son slain at the hands of the wicked. Pray that each breath they take will be a little less painful--and pray they will regain the desire to draw those breaths. Pray that they will have people to lean on when their legs won't hold them up anymore and people to help with the day to day stuff that has to be done but just seems meaningless right now. Pray that they will be granted sleep and rest, things that are hard to come by in the grips of grief. Pray that their broken hearts will be mended instead of becoming stone, because it's a lot easier to let your heart get hardened than it is to deal with the pain of it healing. Pray that their sadness is eventually eclipsed by the beauty of happy memories, that they will have moments when something they recall makes them smile through the tears.

And months from now, when the rest of the world has gone on spinning, reach out. Make sure they know the ones they love aren't forgotten. And remind them that God is near to the brokenhearted. He will one day give them beauty to take the place of ashes and joy to replace mourning...

...but until then, He will be with them in the pain.

After all, it is I, the Eternal One your God,
        who has hold of your right hand,
    Who whispers in your ear,
“Don’t be afraid. I will help you.”
(Isaiah 41:13)

Monday, May 23, 2022

expectations

I heard an excerpt from a Christian podcast a few days ago and it hit me wrong. Two women were talking and one said something along the lines of, "I wish I had lowered my expectations for my children." She went on to explain how that was the better, more loving thing to do--how we should make it a point to welcome people just as they are and reassure them that however they show up is good enough.

Setting Expectations Quotes. QuotesGram

I call bull (sorry if you think that's too blunt).

Maybe it's the years I've been in education, but there's not much that makes me more frustrated about parental behavior than parents who have low expectations for their kids. I sat in a conference once where I listened to a mom talk about all the things her daughter wasn't capable of. I could only watch the tears welling in the 14-year old girl's eyes for so long before I spoke up, and I'll never forget the look on her face when I chimed in with what I thought she was capable of. I've been on the receiving end of rants from parents who couldn't believe I wouldn't let their kids turn in assignments weeks late, who told me it was teachers like made them worried about the future of education. I've listened to kids talk about how it wasn't a big deal to have a broken iphone because their parents would just replace it again. I've had parents tell me I had no right to take a cell phone away in class (despite school rules specifying I was to do exactly that). I've heard parents fume about it not being their job to make sure their kid is turning in assignments. I've listened to other moms cry about their kids' lack of effort and low grades, then watched them visibly cringe when I suggested grounding the kids from their cell phone or video games until the grades improved.

Parents, we have to have higher expectations of our kids. Kids aren't dumb, and like most of the human race, they are pretty good at figuring out how to get away with doing the least amount of work required. As parents, it isn't our job to make life easy for our kids. Instead, it's our job to teach our children how to become responsible adults. In fact, it's a biblical mandate:

"Train up a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not depart from it."

(Proverbs 22:6, NKJV)

There are also a heck of a lot of verses about discipline, but I'll leave that hornet's nest alone for right now.

I can't tell you haw many conversations with my kids have included something along the lines of, "It's not my job to make you happy or be your friend. It's my job to do my best to make sure you become the person God created you to be."

There's an idea that seems to be floating around right now that whoever you are right now, in this moment, is who God created you to be. The idea is that you don't have to change, you're perfectly good enough just the way you are. The problem is, that's not biblical. Yes, God calls each of us to come to Him as we are, with all our scars and wounds and imperfections glaringly obvious. The thing is, He then calls us to change. My mom used to tell all of her kids (the 3 of us who were her biological kids and the countless others that she claimed as hers through all the years of children's church) "I love you too much to let you act like that." It seems we forget that while yes, God loves us just like we are, He loves us too much to let us stay that way.

As Paul wrote to the church in Philippi:

 "I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect;
but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One,
Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way
because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go.
Brothers and sisters, as I said, I know I have not arrived;
but there’s one thing I am doing: I’m leaving my old life behind,
putting everything on the line for this mission.

I am sprinting toward the only goal that counts:
to cross the line, to win the prize,
and to hear God’s call to resurrection life
found exclusively
in Jesus the Anointed."

(Philippians 3:12-14)

We aren't good enough just like we are, and neither are our kids. Yes, we need to love our kids like God loves us. That doesn't mean making excuses for them. It doesn't mean ignoring when they mess up. It means providing the guidance and discipline that God provides for us. It means raising them up to become who God has created them to be by sometimes being the refining fire that cleans away the imperfections in the gold, or to remember that "iron sharpens iron" in our dealings with them.

That doesn't mean we expect perfection. As we strive to demonstrate an earth example of God's heavenly love, we have to also demonstrate His grace. But it does mean that we hold our children to high standards. It means we expect our kids to meet those expectations, and we don't make up their excuses for them when they fail to meet those expectations.

What do I mean by that? Well, kids are pretty much experts at coming up with excuses for why they did something they knew they weren't supposed to do or for not doing what they knew they were supposed to do. We don't need to give them any help. That means we don't need to say things like:
  • "That teacher must not like you"
  • "It doesn't matter what the deadline was for that assignment, I'll make sure your teacher has to give you a grade."
  • "I'll make sure your coach doesn't bench you."
  • "Math's too hard for you, it's okay." 

 I won't apologize for having high standards for my kids. In fact, I hope the expectations I have, as much as they frustrate my kids now, will push them to have higher expectations of themselves in the future. I hope they will realize that God's standards are what matter, and that nothing here on earth can ever compare to those. I want them to struggle with their imperfections and failings, because that's how we get better. I want them to see that all their efforts fall short of perfection, because it's only then that they will realize they can't become who they need to be on their own. Because like Paul reminded us:

"all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God,
and all are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
"

(Romans 3:23)


 


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

it started with a flat tire

 I live down a couple miles of dirt road. I love where I live--protected by the hills all around, tucked back where we have to cross the creek multiple times to get to our house--but it isn't the ideal place for my little Prius. While my tiny hybrid is an ideal vehicle for my 2-hour round trip every day, it isn't ideal for rough dirt roads, creek beds, and a driveway that winds through the field.


So it wasn't surprising when I had a flat. Frustrating, and a definite inconvenience when we got home Sunday evening, but not surprising. My husband was going to be volunteering at our kids' JR High track meet on Monday, which just happened to be in the town where I work, so we put off fixing it for the night and I just bummed a ride with him for work Monday. When we got home, then, Nathan jacked my car up and got the tire off. That process wasn't without it's own challenges (which I won't get into, but which involved my dad and the tractor), but it was done. My dad offered to go to the tire shop for us and offered his pickup for me to drive to work today. It was parked in the back corner of our yard where Nathan had unloaded the posts he had gotten to be able to finish fencing our yard, back in a section that gets pretty swampy in the spring rains, so last night he moved the truck to the other side of the yard where we park, pulling up behind our old truck that's not running.

This morning, we all left a little bit late due to a bit of a rough morning (teenagers... enough said). Nathan and the kids all piled into the Suburban and I went to climb into Pop's truck where I was greeted with an odd sight: a little red calf was standing up beside our old truck, very still. It took my mind a second to register what was wrong, but then it clicked--like the toddler that she is, the calf had stuck her head into the wheel well and gotten stuck there. I'm guessing there had been a cat up on the tire, probably one that had used that space as a hiding place from the 2-month old puppies we have running around right now. Whatever her reason, though, the poor thing was stuck tight. It took me pushing her forward while Nathan maneuvered her head for us to get her unstuck. Thinking back, when I had woken up to a calf hollering at 1 o'clock in the morning it was probably her I was hearing. So after about 6 hours standing with her head stuck, she was a bit dazed and shaky on her feet. She seemed fine otherwise, though.

Here's the thing--if I hadn't had a flat, we wouldn't have even seen that side of the old truck this morning. That poor calf would have been stuck until probably 4 this afternoon, which I can't imagine!

There's a familiar saying: "God works in mysterious ways."

Sometimes He uses flat tires to help a curious calf.



Thursday, March 17, 2022

labor pains

 Early in the morning on the 4th of July, I woke up with a familiar tightening of the muscles around my stomach. They weren't intense, but I knew what I was feeling--contractions. I waited for a while before I told Nathan what was going on because I knew it was still early. After a couple of hours, though, we made arrangements to drop off our oldest with family and made our way to the hospital. Once there, the nurses hooked me up to a monitor. They read my contractions and watched me for a little while, then told me that the monitor must be off because I should be reacting more (insert major eye roll here...). They sent me home, saying they would see me back in a few days.

I didn't argue, but I knew I would be back much sooner than a few days. We called our parents to let them know what was going on, then picked up our daughter and headed home. My parents came down and spent the day with us. We hung around the house all day while my contractions got stronger and closer together. That night, we watched fireworks on t.v. while I held Nathan's hand, squeezing more and more as the contractions got more and more intense. Just before midnight, we made the trip back to the hospital. The labor pains were so intense that I couldn't decide which would help more--I alternated between telling Nathan to speed up to get me there faster and telling him to slow down because the bumps in the road were unbearable.

I remember the events, but I'll be completely honest--the pain I felt then that was so intense I couldn't think straight? I barely remember it now. The miracle that came after the labor is what I remember: the baby boy who was 8 pounds 14 ounces (he looked about 3 months old and dwarfed the 5 pound baby he was next to in the nursery) with big soft cheeks and big blue eyes. The pain of labor pales in comparison to the wonder and beauty of what came after.

In Matthew 24, Jesus warned His disciples about the last days. He told them about the wars, rumors of wars, violence, famine, and earthquakes that will come. He told them that His followers will be tortured, hated, and killed for their belief in Him. Those days will be dark--when love grows cold, people turn away from God, and the only thing that grows is wickedness. He warned of a day when the sun and moon will be darkened, when the stars will fall from the sky, and when all the powers of heaven and earth will be shaken.

Like many others, things happening in the world right now lead me to believe that we are quickly approaching that terrible tribulation that Jesus said will be unlike anything ever seen on earth. Those are dark, scary days. They are days that promise torture, death, and destruction. They are days filled with incredible pain, both physically and emotionally.

But Jesus said something else: "All these are the beginning of birth pains." (Matthew 24:8)

All that painful, hard stuff is undeniably in our future. Whether it comes in our generation or not, I don't know. If I don't face it, though, I really think my kids will. It will be unimaginable. It will be horrible. It will be painful.

But like labor pains, it will end.

And the miracle that comes after will make the pain pale in comparison.

"10 He took me away in the Spirit and set me on top of a great, high mountain. As I waited for what I thought was a bride, he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. 11 It gleamed and shined with the glory of God; its radiance was like the most precious of jewels, like jasper, and it was as clear as crystal. 12 It was surrounded with a wall, great and high. There were twelve gates. Assigned to each gate was a messenger, twelve in all. And on the gates were inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel’s sons. 13 On the east wall were three gates. On the north wall were three gates. On the south wall were three gates. On the west wall were three gates. 14 And the city wall sat perfectly on twelve foundation stones, and on them were inscribed the names of the twelve emissaries of the Lamb.New Jerusalem HD — Creitz Illustration Studio

15 My guide held a golden measuring rod. With it he measured the city and the gates and the walls. 16 And the city is laid out with four corners in a perfect square, the length the same as its width. He measured the city with his measuring rod, and the result was that its length and width and height are equal: 1,444 miles, a perfect cube. 17 And my guide measured the wall; it was nearly 72 yards high, in human measurements, which was the instrument the guide was using. 18 The wall was made of jasper, while the city itself was made of pure gold, yet it was as clear as glass. 19 The foundation stones of the wall of the city were decorated with every kind of jewel: the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate expertly crafted from a single beautiful pearl. And the city street was pure gold, yet it was as transparent as glass.

22 And in the city, I found no temple because the Lord God, the All Powerful, and the Lamb are the temple. 23 And in the city, there is no need for the sun to light the day or moon the night because the resplendent glory of the Lord provides the city with warm, beautiful light and the Lamb illumines every corner of the new Jerusalem. 24 And all peoples of all the nations will walk by its unfailing light, and the rulers of the earth will stream into the city bringing with them the symbols of their grandeur and power. 25 During the day, its gates will not be closed; the darkness of night will never settle in. 26 The glory and grandeur of the nations will be on display there, carried to the holy city by people from every corner of the world. 27 Nothing that defiles or is defiled can enter into its glorious gates. Those who practice sacrilege or deception will never walk its streets. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life can enter.

22:1 My heavenly guide brought me to the river of pure living waters, shimmering as brilliantly as crystal. It flowed out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, flowing down the middle and dividing the street of the holy city. On each bank of the river stood the tree of life, firmly planted, bearing twelve kinds of fruit and producing its sweet crop every month throughout the year. And the soothing leaves that grew on the tree of life provided precious healing for the nations.

No one or nothing will labor under any curse any longer. And the throne of God and of the Lamb will sit prominently in the city. God’s servants will continually serve and worship Him. They will be able to look upon His face, and His name will be written on their foreheads. Darkness will never again fall on this city. They will not require the light of a lamp or of the sun because the Lord God will be their illumination. By His light, they will reign throughout the ages." (Revelation 21:10-22:4)

Friday, February 25, 2022

I spent a big chunk of my life involved in cheerleading. Through all the years I cheered, my favorite thing to do was stunt. I was always a base--as I've mentioned, I've had trust issues since the time I was little so that ruled out being a flyer and relying on somebody else to hold me up in the air. I was always the one with my feet planted firmly on the ground.A lot goes into stunting, and my favorite (and best) cheer coach always made sure we understood the importance of what we were doing. His favorite thing to tell us was "Drop a stunt, run a mile." As a base, I took that to heart. My job was to always be between my flyer and the floor, no matter what. Since my feet were on the floor, that meant that it would hurt a whole lot less for my body to end up on the floor than it would for my flyer's body to end up there. How easy that was for me to do, though, depended in large part on my flyer.One of the most spectacular stunts to see is a basket toss. Even if you're not familiar with cheerleading, I'm sure you've seen the stunt where one cheerleader gets thrown up into the air and then caught.

It's fun to watch and fun to throw--as long as the flyer knows what she's doing and has faith in her bases. The flyer's job is to ride the toss up to the very top, typically hit a toe touch, then pull her feet together and up in front of her so she can be caught by her bases. She has to hold her body tight, because it is incredibly difficult to catch a flyer who either panics or becomes limp.Some flyers, though, have a hard time trusting their bases to catch them. It's understandable--if you get thrown 12 feet in the air, it's going to do quite a number on your body if you hit the ground. These flyers get nervous as they start to come back toward the ground. Some of them start trying to look down to see if the bases are there. The thing is, your body tends to follow where your eyes lead. That means that when I had a flyer who was trying to look down and see me, she inevitably started tipping that direction. As her head went forward, her feet would come down underneath her. If her feet dropped instead of staying in a pike position, it was almost impossible to keep myself underneath her as she fell toward the ground.Other flyers would get into the air and then panic. They found themselves in an uncomfortable situation, a place they shouldn't naturally be in, and they would start flailing. As they came back toward the ground, it was kind of like trying to catch a live fish that had been tossed to you. In either of those situations, it was all we could do as bases to keep our flyer from getting injured.Two of the flyers I stunted with, though, fully trusted us as their bases. No matter what kind of stunt our coach dreamed up and had us try, they knew we would keep them from hitting the ground. They would fly through the air, not worried about what would happen when they came down.It can be like that in life. Sometimes we find ourselves tossed out into an uncomfortable situation, a place we shouldn't naturally be in, and the fear kicks in. We start flailing around or searching for a way to catch ourselves, and the only thing that does is get us out of alignment. In our heads we know that God will be there to catch us, but it's hard to trust Him to do it. In those times all we really accomplish is taking what could be something spectacular and turning it into a situation where God has to focus on just keeping us from getting injured.28 Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
    The Eternal, the Everlasting God,
The Creator of the whole world, never gets tired or weary.
    His wisdom is beyond understanding.
29 God strengthens the weary
    and gives vitality to those worn down by age and care.
30 Young people will get tired;
    strapping young men will stumble and fall.
31 But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength.
    They will soar on wings as eagles.
They will run—never winded, never weary.
    They will walk—never tired, never faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

Thursday, February 10, 2022

more or less

 More--do more, be more, have more. It's all around us all the time, pushing us to push harder, that constant feeling that it's simply not enough. Do you hear that voice in the back of your head like I do? Call it perfectionism, imposter syndrome... or just be honest and call it insecurity.

The feeling that I'm just not enough is something I've dealt with my whole life. Every grade, every project, should have been better. Every meal cooked or room cleaned. Every important conversation with one of my kids. Every gift given. Every accolade won. Every promise made. All of it should have somehow been more... I should somehow be more, fit more into every day, figure out how to give my kids more. I should be able to be the best at work and give more, then turn around and be the best at home and make sure my house looks like the magazines (or at least like a tornado hasn't just come through the living room), then keep the farm running. I should be able to find a way to have it all together, to be more, to be everything to everybody without fail.

Only, that voice is a lie.

I'm not saying we shouldn't do our best in everything. After all, Paul wrote to the Colossians and said, "Whatever you do, do it heartily, as for the Lord, not for men." But saying we should do our best in everything we do doesn't mean that we should take on doing everything.

It's easy to fall into the trap that if we can just do more, we will be worth more. The world perpetuates the lie, holding up attainment as if it determines worthiness. We are pushed to accumulate stuff with the idea that the people with the most stuff will undeniably be the happiest and most fulfilled. Get the best job, buy the best car, get the biggest loan for the best house, take the best vacations (just put them on a credit card). Make sure your kids are in all the things-- dance, music lessons, every sport for every season-- and be sure they have all the best gear available for all of it. Find all the best workouts so that you can make sure that you look the best. Be the most beautiful, the most fit, the most athletic, the most put-together.

Only, all too often we get a heartbreaking reminder that those things leave people empty and broken. Just recently, one of those reminders came from the woman who was selected as Miss USA in 2019, who placed in the top 10 in the Miss Universe pageant, and was a 30-year old with an MBA and Juris Doctor who somehow thought life wasn't worth living, despite the apparent host of family and friends she leaves behind. I won't try to speak to what caused her to make the decision she made; I didn't know her, so it's not my place to even try to guess.

What I know, though, is that chasing after what this world has to offer can only leave us empty. No matter what we do--no matter how many degrees or accolades, no matter the complements or praise from other people, no matter the perfect image that is shown to the world--we can never fill the hole at the core of who we are by chasing after the world.

We can't do enough to prove ourselves worthy.
We can't ever be better enough to satisfy.
We can't fill every role perfectly.
We can't be everything to everyone.

You see, chasing after the things of this world will break you apart, and there can never be enough pieces of you to pursue all you would need to do to find fulfillment. The more worldly pursuits you have, the more your life, your heart, and your soul will feel scattered. You'll run around in desperation, trying to find a way to split yourself into enough pieces and somehow hold everything together at the same time.

I speak from experience when I say it's not possible. The more you try to hold your life together, the more tightly you try to grasp all the pieces that are slipping through your fingers, the less you'll be able to manage to hold it together. To hold yourself together.

So what in the world are we supposed to do?

The simple and hard answer is, we do what Jesus said. In Matthew 6, we jump into the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. There we hear Jesus speak these words:

"24 No one can serve two masters. If you try, you will wind up loving the first master and hating the second, or vice versa. People try to serve both God and money—but you can’t. You must choose one or the other.

25 Here is the bottom line: do not worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will drink. Don’t worry about how you clothe your body. Living is about more than merely eating, and the body is about more than dressing up. 26 Look at the birds in the sky. They do not store food for winter. They don’t plant gardens. They do not sow or reap—and yet, they are always fed because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are even more precious to Him than a beautiful bird. If He looks after them, of course He will look after you. 27 Worrying does not do any good; who here can claim to add even an hour to his life by worrying?

28 Nor should you worry about clothes. Consider the lilies of the field and how they grow. They do not work or weave or sew, and yet their garments are stunning. 29 Even King Solomon, dressed in his most regal garb, was not as lovely as these lilies. 30 And think about grassy fields—the grasses are here now, but they will be dead by winter. And yet God adorns them so radiantly. How much more will He clothe you, you of little faith, you who have no trust?

31 So do not consume yourselves with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? 32 Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need. 33 Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too. 34 So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today."

Simple--put God first. Pursue Him, and He will take care of everything else. If you divide your loyalty it won't work. You can't make money or fame or popularity or doing good or preparing for the future become the main focus of your life, because then those things become what controls your life.

Hard--put God first. Don't worry about all the rest of it. Don't focus on anything else, not even food or clothes. Let me tell you, for a control-freak like myself that's an awfully hard command to follow. I've never been someone who liked being caught off-guard. I want to be in control, partly because then I know that if I fail I have no one to blame but myself. That's quite the double-edged sword, because it means that any failure in my life is taken personally. But to truly live a life where God is first means to fully trust Him. It means to let go of the idea that we are in control of things.

It's hard to do the simple things sometimes. But the incredible thing is that God doesn't expect us to do the hard things on our own. As we put aside the other things, we start to realize that the emptiness gets filled to overflowing with Him. And all the striving and fighting that you've been doing to be enough gets replaced as you start to cling to the fact that He is more than enough. Then He will become more, and you won't mind becoming less.

Monday, January 3, 2022

do you know God?

 Do you know God?

Do you know the Father, the One who spoke life into existence? The One who is somehow both entirely love and entirely justice, the One who sits on the throne surrounded by majesty, yet still listens to His children and catches our tears when we cry. The Father who created each and every one of us for a purpose--even though He knew some of us would insist on our own way instead of His. The One who created a paradise for us even though He knew what we would do to it, who wanted a relationship with us even though He knew we would break His heart, but chose mercy.

Do you know the Son, the One through whom everything holds together? The Word, there from the beginning of time. The One who stepped from the majesty and glory of Heaven into the fragile flesh of a baby, sent to earth to reconcile broken, imperfect people to God while we were still lost in sin. The One whom the wind and the waves obeyed, who could give sight and restore bodies and turn a boy's lunch into enough to feed thousands--and called little children to His side. The One who dared to touch the untouchables and to speak to the unworthy. The One who had legions of angels ready to save Him yet chose to stay on the cross because He knew there wasn't another way to pay the price for us. The One who hung in excruciating pain, struggling for every breath, blood and sweat running down every inch of His broken body, but chose mercy. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Do you know the Spirit, the One sent as the Helper? The One who comes to make His home in the hearts of men, who whispers into the core of who we are to convict us when we sin. The One who gives us new life when we die to the old life. The One who sees all the things we try to hide from the world--the selfishness, lies, insecurities, and bad decisions--and gives us the power to overcome all of that. The One who is the very picture of mercy because He sees everything about us and chooses to give us life anyway.

Do you know God?

dangers of affirmation

When my daughter was about 3, she would have told you, without hesitation, that she wasn't a little girl--she was a puppy. She would b...

what people are reading...