Monday, April 14, 2014

Look to the Cross

As I prepared yesterday’s Sunday school lesson, I got stuck on a verse. It was not the focal verse. But I got stuck on it anyway.

The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” Numbers 21:5

Do you see the contradiction here? We have no food…well, really it’s that we loathe this miserable food.

We have no water…well, except for all the water that You have provided every step of the way, Lord.

Most of the complaints of the children of Israel are met with Moses crying out to the Lord, the Lord providing the need, and then some sort of reminder from the Lord that He really is in charge and that whining is not acceptable.

This time, though, God just skips all of that and sends snakes to torment and kill the people. Why? Because this time there was not a real need. This time they were just complaining about what God had already given them. They are saying that God’s provision and care for them are insufficient. How do I know this? Check out verse four.

Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. Numbers 21:4

So, why did I get stuck here? Because I am guilty of the same type of complaining. I behave with the same level of impatience.

It does not matter that God has always provided. If the provision is not here right now, I get agitated.

It does not matter that I have plenty all around me. If I do not have exactly what I am craving right now, I get irritable.

It is so easy to judge the Israelites for their childish behavior until we look in the mirror and analyze our own actions. How are we any different?

I am truly thankful that God does not send poisonous snakes to remind me of my selfishness. I do not have to look at a bronze serpent to survive. But I do have to look at the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself made that comparison in John 3:14-15.

When I look to the cross, my perspective changes. I see a reminder of what my selfishness did. It crucified my Savior. His blood dripped for my bad attitude. My complaining. My accusations that what God has done is not enough.

This week Christians everywhere naturally look to the cross as we walk through Holy Week. But do we really see it? Does it truly affect our thoughts and behavior? Does it make a difference in our whining and complaining? In our attitudes? In our selfishness?

It is so easy in our culture to get bogged down with the pressure of making sure everyone has just the right Easter clothes. We need to find the right Easter baskets, make sure to squeeze in an egg hunt, and hustle to finish all of the cooking for that Easter meal. It is easy to forget to really look to the cross this week. We let the serpents continue to chip away at our attitudes, bringing death to our celebration while we refuse to look up and be healed.

Will you look to the cross with me this week? Really look? Somehow I think that, if we do, all of the other mess will fade away. I have been so distracted by that mess. I am ready for it to fade away. Will you join me?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Urgency vs. Purpose

It is so easy to get caught up in the urgent. Do you know what I mean? We wake up each morning with thoughts about how we will spend the day. Then those little pesky things pop up, driving us to and fro. We come to the end of the day exhausted, having done and done and done and done. But when we look back, we never are really sure what it is we’ve truly accomplished.

Recently, my boss encouraged me to sit down and divide my work week into percentages. What needs to be given the highest priority? What needs to consume the least amount of time. I realized that the things that should take the least amount of time usually consume the most. Those that should consume most of my time often are given just a few moments here and there as an afterthought in the busyness of each day.

This is not just how a work day flows. I have lived through enough years without a paying job to know that a regular “mom” day works just the same. Plans are drowned out by demands until the plans seem nonexistent. We just work to survive.

I cannot help but think that God has different intentions for us. But what does it take to get there? How can we move past the survival mode to true purpose? The things that weigh us down and take up so much of our time are always going to be there. How can we thrive despite those distractions?

When I evaluated my work last week, I was reminded of the purpose of my role with Home Educating Family. I was reminded of what was most important. And I began to consciously process how to deal with the time-stealers that prevented me from accomplishing my purpose.

The same principle applies to our spiritual lives. There are things that must be done, of course. We must get up and face our duties for the day, whether they send us to an office, a field, a computer screen, a wrestling with children at home, or any other destination. But we do not have to allow those things to distract us from our true purpose.

So, what is our purpose? We were created to glorify God and relate to Him personally. How do we live that out each day? Well, that is where our individual personalities comes into play. I cannot tell you how glorifying God will look in your day. But I can tell you that you and I must both be very intentional about making sure it happens.

It is so easy to get caught up in the mundane. So easy to be trampled by the urgent. So easy to come to the end of a day, week, month, or even year and see that nothing has truly been accomplished.

Could it be that our goals are wrong? Could it be that we are too focused on survival to truly accomplish anything?

As this week closes, I encourage you to stop and think about your purpose. What distracts you from it? How can you fulfill that purpose without neglecting the necessary obligations that come up each day?

Finally, how can you merge those obligations with your purpose, honoring God in every action?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ready to Listen

Every morning, I get out of bed and gather devotional resources. I read devotions from a variety of authors. I follow a daily Bible chronological Bible reading from a plan that the whole church is working through this year. And I use Journibles to copy daily passages from Proverbs and either Psalms or John. This is my daily routine.

Lately, though, it has become just that: a routine. Something to check off my list. I do glean from it. I do grow from it. But, I’m not digging deeply through it. In fact, I have not even pulled out my blank journal in quite some time.

As I sat down one day last week to start my reading, a question ran through my mind. Was I truly ready to listen? Actively listen? Or was I simply ready to take whatever happened to jump out at me as I read?

Unfortunately, I think the latter came closer to the truth. I was not prepared to dig. I was ready for a snack, not the deeply satisfying meal God desired to offer from His Word.

Immediately, I got up and grabbed my long-neglected journal. Opening it up, I wrote out a confession of my laziness. My negligence. My satisfaction with snacking to take the edge off instead of digging deep to truly fill my hungry soul.

Then I prepared to actively listen, pen in hand.

What does active listening look like for you? What is the difference between snacking and truly dining in your relationship with Christ? Each of us interacts with Him according to the personality He created. So, active listening will look very different for you than it does for me. How do you accomplish it in your life?

I cannot say that the daily lessons have been fantastically different as I have renewed my commitment to actively listen. I don’t know that more has jumped off the page for me. But my spiritual ear is being retrained. My heart and mind are once again hungering for more than a snack. And my excitement for the Word is deepening again.

What about you? Are you ready to listen today?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Part of the Plan

Monday hit me full force this morning. Getting back to waking up on time after several days of sleeping in. Allergies burning my eyes, filling my throat with gunk, and making my head fill like it weighs a ton. Hovering over me with a gloom as heavy as the clouds that hide the sun today. Filtering through my attitude and my ability to mentally process or respond well to my family.

Knowing that the day would be full and that I needed to be up and about gave me motivation, but not inspiration. I knew I would do it because I had to. But I also knew I would welcome the end of the day.

I worked through my devotional reading and pulled out my prayer journal. Staring at the prayer list, I could hardly process the requests that needed prayer this morning. In desperation, my heart cried, “Lord, help me know how to pray through this fog!”

You know, I think the Lord smiles every time we ask Him to help us pray. For some reason, the God of the universe wants a relationship with me. I know it to be true. I see it throughout Scripture. But it still blows my mind every time. He wants me to pray because He wants a relationship with little old me. Sluggish me. Ornery me. Agitated me. Whiney me. He wants me to come to Him in prayer.

But there is more to it than that. He wants me with Him all day. And when my heart called out to Him this morning, that is exactly what He showed me.

God has a perfect plan for this day, Monday though it may be. He can accomplish His plan with or without me. But do you know what He desires? He desires that I be a part of it. And it all starts when I intentionally go beyond that prayer list and seek His heart through prayer.

Next comes obedience. Rejoice in the Lord always. Think on these things. Pray without ceasing. All of the things that will take my Monday attitude and turn it into a focus on Christ that does not care what day of the week it is.

That obedience ushers me in, allowing me to focus on His plan for this day. And that is where He wants me to be. The mind-boggling, overwhelming truth is that He wants me!

It is still a Monday. The allergies are still burning my eyes, I still want a nap, and the clouds are still gloomy. But this day is the Lord’s, and He wants me to be a part of His plan. That, my friends, is inspiration enough for me.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Easy to Forget

Once upon a time, I was the mother of young children. I did not think it was that long ago. But this week my two nieces, ages four and 15 months, are staying with us. It is fun. They are precious. But there are so many things about having a toddler and preschooler that I have forgotten. I suppose it has been longer than I thought.

It is so easy to forget where we once were, isn’t it? It is not so much that we forget having the experience. For example, I remember clearly the first year of my second born’s life, even though she is now well past her tenth birthday.

Yes, the experience is solidly entrenched in my memory. But the how-to of truly living out that experience has escaped me. Were I to start a year like that all over again right now, I would have to relearn the details of daily life, just as I am having to relearn how to have a preschooler and toddler in the house.

But it is not just about relearning the coping mechanisms. It is about restructuring life. Ten years ago, my life was structured to have little ones. My girls were six months and almost three. My whole schedule, routine, and home were built around having children that age.

Nowadays, I can give advice based on how I lived life back then. But, I would have to completely readjust my life to get back to that point. Nothing about where we are right now as a family is conducive to the permanent residence of young children.

We all would do well to remember that truth when others come to us for advice. Are we truly still familiar with what it takes to live certain phases of life? How much adjustment would it require? How easily could we truly step back into that role?

This week I will thoroughly enjoy my sweet nieces. Then I will send them home and life will return to normal routine. But I’m thankful for this snapshot. I’m thankful to have seen a glimpse of what would be required were we to return to toddler/preschool life. And I hope that glimpse will allow me to truly be helpful when other mothers ask me for parenting advice.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Just Don’t Want To

Some days I just don’t wanna do it.

I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to teach my children. I don’t want to work. I don’t want to write. I don’t want to keep life together. I have seen several “just keepin’ it real, folks” statements on social media. Well, I suppose this is mine. Some days I just don’t want to.

Over the years, though, I have learned that giving in to my “don’t want to” temptations does not solve anything. I cannot run away today and suddenly feel motivated tomorrow. In fact, the more I run away the less motivated I feel tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Life falls apart when I run away.

I have also had to learn the difference between giving up and truly resting. Giving in to the “don’t want to” feeling is running away. It is laziness. It is a lack of discipline. Rest, on the other hand, is biblical. It refreshes me, refocuses me, and truly energizes me to get back into the game.

I don’t think I realized I had learned this lesson until recently, though. You see, I have been particularly unmotivated lately. I have felt a little bit maxed out and very behind on just about everything. That always intensifies the “don’t want to” feeling. It has been a hard fight lately.

Meanwhile, when the time changed we rearranged bedtime for the kids a bit so they could stay outside a little longer, enjoying whatever pretty weather comes our way. That has meant a later wake-up time for them as well.

I go in to awaken two of my three children, but my oldest has grown to prefer her own alarm clock. This child has always loved sleep. She is my latest sleeper and the one most likely to enjoy loafing around in her pj’s all day. I expected her to most enthusiastically welcome the later wake-up time every morning.

Imagine my surprise when, just a few days after the schedule adjustment, my daughter was up at the old wake-up time. Her explanation? “I just feel better when I get up earlier, Mom. It’s not exactly fun, but I know it helps me be more diligent and relaxed with my day.” It might be less fun, but it’s more restful. How profound.

This thinking is not in my daughter’s nature any more than it is in my own. But, as we have trusted her to be more in control of her time, she has watched us. She has seen how we deal with our mornings. She has observed the differences between our days of diligence and our days of laxity.

She has learned because we have learned.

Diligence on those “don’t want to” days does not just impact me. It does not just grow me. It does not just strengthen me. It makes an impact on those around me - especially on my children. It gives them the foundation upon which to build habits and decision-making skills that will carry them far as they grow.

Today, I must admit, is very much a “don’t want to” day. But, I cannot help but smile as I do it all anyway. My baby girl is watching. Even when nothing else matters, that makes it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Where’s My Mind?

One of my favorite passages is Philippians 4:4-7.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Unfortunately, I frequently neglect to move on to verses eight and nine.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

You see, I love to draw on my beloved Philippians 4 passage when I’m in the middle of a struggle and tempted to worry or stress. It is a go-to message that has soothed my heart during more crises than I can begin to count.

But, when I move on to the next two verses, I realize that this passage is not just about the times of crisis. This passage is also about every day life. And every day life is where I falter.

In the routine times, the normal times, the mundane times, and the everyday times, I tend to grow restless. I crave something. I want action. I don’t want to settle in to the normal routine of waking up, having a “quiet time,” exercising, doing chores, homeschooling, working, writing, going to bed, and then starting it all over again. Yes, in the crazy moments I do long for days like that, but when those days come I seem to grow tired of them quickly.

In short, I am not at peace.

This morning I took a deep breath and prayed, “Lord, I just want to be at peace in the normalcy of this day.”

His response? A convicting verse.

The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Isaiah 26:2-4

Actually, although I am an NASB kind of gal, I always seem to remember this verse in the NKJV, for some reason.

The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Isaiah 26:2-4

A mind stayed on Him.

A steadfast mind.

Dwell on these things.

Practice these things.

OUCH.

I lack peace because I lack discipline of the mind. I let my mind drift in all sorts of directions. Not necessarily bad directions, mind you. Nothing sinful. But definitely distracting.

Long before I was born, God made a way for me to live through both crisis and mundanity in perfect peace. Every day. Every moment. Without fail. He laid it out before me in perfection. I simply must discipline my mind to remain fixed on Him in perfect trust.