Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Little Hope for When Our Kids Have Difficulties

As our children continue to grow up they will experience trials and difficult times.  Trials that we will want to rescue them out of.  Difficult times that we wish we could protect them from. 

Perhaps they will be social outcasts, even bullied. 
Maybe they will struggle in school due to a learning disability.  Perhaps illness will strike. 
Maybe they won't make the team they've spent hours and hours of time preparing and training for. 
Perhaps they will be victims of abuse and/or crime. 
Maybe they will just never get something they desperately want.
Perhaps they will be deeply betrayed.
Or maybe they will lose someone or something dear to them.

Whatever trial or difficult time they face, their faith will be tested.  And they, like all of us who have undergone trials, will come face to face with the ultimate question when life is hard: 

Will I serve and worship God in and through this trial or will I walk away and serve someone or something else?

I can think of a few significant trials and difficult times in my youth when I had to face this question head on.  Before me stood a mountain or valley and, regardless of whether I consciously realized it or not, in each case I made a decision to either trust and walk with God in & through the trial OR to turn and serve someone or something else.  My faith and all that I understood about God was absolutely tested.

Friends, I don't always understand why trials and difficult times have to happen.  But one thing I do understand through personal experience, is that trials and difficult times can strengthen and solidify our faith or they can knock it down until it is wavering and weak. 

Remember the fiery furnace story in the book of Daniel, chapter 3.  While in Babylonian exile (already a difficult time), three Jews by the names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego went through a blazing trial (literally) in which their faith was extraordinarily tested.  King Nebuchadnezzar commanded them to serve and worship his gods or else they be thrown into a blazing furnace and burned to death.  In a trial of great testing, the three men chose to serve and worship Jehovah God.  Furious, King N. had their hands bound up and thrown into the fire. You probably know the rest of the story.  God is with them in the fire and they come out with no harm to their bodies.  In fact, not even a "hair of their heads was singed."  But here's my favorite part...the only thing that was burned in their furnace were the bounds upon their hands.  And their faith was publically solidified and inwardly strengthened in a big way.

Metaphorically speaking, those bounds represent all that is robbing us of freely walking with God.  I learned many years ago that while engrossed in a trial or difficult time I didn't want to miss what bounds God was trying to burn off in my life (and heart).

In High School I was benched my junior year on the basketball team after having 13 turnovers in a game, and He burnt off bounds of pride. 

In my 20's while teaching some of the most exasperating middle school kids I had ever met, He burnt off bounds of entitlement and intolerance. 

For the few years that I struggled with conceiving, He burned off bounds of control and anger. 

The first year of parenting, He burnt off a deeply rooted bound of self-centeredness. 

During my recent cystic acne ordeal, He burnt off bounds of vanity and idolatry to food. 

Over and over again through trials and difficult times, I have come out of the fire free from bounds that were stifling my walk with God.  And without those bounds, my faith grew stronger and stronger.

So while I don't know why bad things happen to good people, I do know that God longs to use our trials and difficult times to free us from that which inhibits our walk with Him and to give us stronger faith.  Sometimes He can do this without a trial, but sometimes we need to struggle for Him to do His greatest work.

So we must choose to look at the trials and difficult times in our kids' lives as opportunities for God to grow their faith and free them from whatever it is that's keeping them from walking freely with Him.

When my kids struggle, I hate it.  When I watch other kids struggle, I hate it.  But, like the 3 Jews in the fiery furnace, He stands with them in the fire and He burns up their bounds.  We must cling to Scripture and trust that our kids will come out of their fires more like Jesus and stronger in faith. 

This, my friends, is my only hope when there seems to be none.  And so, I will lift up this prayer of faith when my kids are undergoing trials and difficult times:

Just as You walked through the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, would you stand in the fire with my kids as they undergo trials and difficult times.  Would you protect them and keep them from harm.  May no hair on their head be singed.  I pray the only thing burned in their fire would be those bounds that keep them from walking freely with You.  Be their source of hope.  Be their guide.  Be their ever present help.  And build up their faith Lord Jesus.  May they come out of the fire with new freedoms and greater faith.  I pray that each and every trial and difficult time they face that they would resist turning to anything or anyone other than You.  May they know You better because of their difficulty.  And may they serve you better in light of their new freedom.   

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Soft Heart Toward God

Hello Friends! 

 So this past weekend I had, to date, the worst grocery store tantrum-throwing melt-down I've had since becoming a mom.  And the Oscar winning performance goes little Allie-girl.  I'll be honest folks, I've never seen such jaw-dropping dramatics from either of my boys at the grocery store.  She took it to a whole new level. 

In a nutshell.  She refused to sit in the grocery cart.  She also refused to walk (apparently the freedom didn't interest her).  All she wanted was to be me.  The problem was that it's virtually impossible to push a grocery cart with only one free hand (assuming the other is being used to carry a toddler).  Especially when the cart is quite full.  So logistically I simply couldn't grant her "Hold Me" request. 

And so the melt-down began.  For 20 minutes we walked through aisles, not getting very far mind you.  She would kick and scream buckled into the cart, weasel her way out of the buckle, and force herself to a standing position.  If I set her down to walk, she went limp.  I would patiently tell her the options again, she would cry and whine.  I'd set her in the cart, she'd kick and scream.  I'd set her down to walk, she'd go limp and whine. 

After 20 minutes of this she finally just laid her face down in the middle of an aisle and threw a doozy of a tantrum.  Oscar worthy!  People walked by in shock that such crying and screams could come out of such a little body.  She refused to move toward me, was crawling away in fact. 

When I finally got to her, I stood in the middle of the store and held her for 15 MINUTES while she just cried and cried on my shoulder.  I didn't move, just stood there and let her get a grip.  Dozens of people walked by me.  Who knows what they were thinking?  I didn't care at that point. 

Her hard, little stubborn heart needed softening.  So for 15 minutes I stood there comforting her and gently reminding her of the options available.  I knew she needed time.  So I just waited.  And prayed God would soften her heart.  Eventually she caught her breath and relaxed.  So I asked her again what she would like to do, "Sit or walk, baby?"  Quietly she says to me (in her sweet little voice), "Sit mommy."  I said, "Okay baby-girl" and kissed her cheek.  I set her in the cart and that was that.  We finished our shopping.  I checked out.  We drove home.

I read in a book recently about a parent whose number one prayer for his child was that her heart would be soft toward God.  One tender enough to trust and obey.  One tender enough to have faith & believe that He exists and that His design and His ways are always best.

I was struck by this prayer after Allie's grocery store episode.

OH how I hope her heart is soft toward God instead of a kicking and screaming kind-of hard heart. 

A soft heart toward God can be difficult to find these days.

There is such great unbelief.  Such deep rebellion in the hearts of many in this world toward God.  And the result is a vast amount of people who are straying from God with heart's that are hardened.  They are kicking and screaming against His ways.  They are going limp on His paths.  They are crawling away from Him, refusing to believe He exists.

Hebrews 3:7-19 speaks to this subject of unbelief stating that often the heart of the unbeliever is "hardened by sin's deceitfulness." 

Theologian Barnes put it this way:  "Sin is always deceitful. It promises more than it performs. It assures us of pleasure which it never imparts...The man who commits sin is always under a delusion; and sin, if he indulges it, will lead him on from one step to another until the heart becomes entirely hardened. Sin puts on plausible appearances and preferences; it assumes the name of virtue; it offers excuses and palliations, until the victim is snared, and then spell-bound he is hurried on to every excess.  Sin deceives, deludes, blinds. Men do not, or will not, see the fearful results of indulgence. They are deluded by the hope of happiness or of gain; they are drawn along by the fascinations and allurements of pleasure until the heart becomes hard and the conscience seared - and then they give way without remorse."

So without over-spiritualizing a barely 2 year old's tantrum at the grocery store, I'll simply say the experience has driven me to pray for her heart in a new pray that her heart wouldn't be hardened by sin's deceitfulness and that it would be soft toward God.

Will you join me and let's pray!

Lord God,
I pray my children's hearts would be soft toward You and Your ways.  May they trust and obey You with tender hearts.  Protect them from sin's deceitfulness that forms hard callouses on their hearts and sears their consciences.  Protect them from kicking and screaming, even crawling away from You because of unbelief.  Give me wisdom Lord as to how I can encourage them in faith and obedience toward You.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Seeing Spiritual Growth in Our Kids

I often talk to my children about the importance of praying and asking Jesus to help us in our weakness, to teach us what is right, to give us wisdom when we aren't sure what choice is right. 

My point being that we cannot be good (or holy) on our own.  We need a stronger force to overcome our sinful nature.  No amount of effort on our part can make us bear fruit that imitates Jesus.  We need His Spirit to empower us, teach us, and give us the wisdom to do that which He desires.

"For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7
"The Spirit helps us in our weakness." Romans 8:26
"But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." John 14:26

So there is a genuine joy that rises up in me when I see spiritual growth in my children because I know the Spirit is doing the work.  Especially when I see change in them, good change.  Like when they exhibit self-control in a circumstance they struggled to in the past.  Or when they choose to act kindly when countless times before they didn't. 

"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control...Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature and its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step by the Spirit." Galatians 5:16, 22-25

Over the past week, there were two particular occasions where I saw growth in my son Grayden in areas he has struggled with in the very recent past.  Areas we both have been praying about. 

The first occasion was at his brother Cole's swim lesson.  On this particular day, Cole was consumed by fear and was refusing to get in the water, let alone participate in the lesson.  In the past, Grayden might have patronized Cole for his fear.  He might have been annoyed and impatient with the attention his brother needed. 

But this time, Grayden was understanding and patient.  He took it upon himself to come alongside Cole and give him a gentle pep talk.  He spoke life giving words to his brother, encouraging him and building him up.  In the end, Cole overcame his fear, got in the water, and participated in the lesson.  And at the end of his lesson, Grayden never once said "I told you so."  Instead, he praised Cole's bravery.  It was never about him, it was about helping Cole.   

I sat back and thought to myself, "The Spirit's at work!  Thank you Jesus!"

The second occasion was at home.  While playing with Cole and another friend of theirs, there was a suggestion made to Grayden that Allie be the "bad guy" which likely meant in her near future she would be chased and attacked.  From a distance I overheard Grayden say firmly but nicely, "Nah.  We are all a team. She's a good guy too."  And just like that, his friend agreed and a little bully-session was thwarted. 

Again, I thought to myself, "The Spirit's at work!  He's bearing fruit."

While these are just two small examples of spiritual growth, they are examples.  And like I said before, they brought me tremendous joy.  The humble kind of joy that occurs when we see Jesus change a life. 

I felt led by the Lord to pull Grayden aside and tell him about the changes I was seeing.  Not to boost his ego or instill in him a spirit of self-righteousness, but rather to help him see how Jesus was changing him from the inside out.  Point out to him that where in the past he might have been inclined to gratify his sinful desires, on these particular occasions he did that which the Spirit of Christ in him desired.  I long for him to see that the Spirit of Christ is working in his life.

Friends, it's downright easy to see and focus on the growth our kids haven't made.  But what God has reminded me of this past week is that part of leading my children toward Jesus is helping them to see how He is working in their life.  I can't lead them in this if I'm not myself looking for His change in them. 

So let's pray together that we have eyes that look for the Spirit working in our kids' lives.  And let's pray for our kids that as they pray for more of Him in their life, they will begin to see all the ways His Spirit is teaching, empowering, and giving them the wisdom they need to live a life of love and integrity; one that imitates Jesus Himself. 

Help me to see your work in my kids' lives.  Give me wisdom and discernment to know when Your Spirit is empowering them to bear righteous fruit.  And I pray you would equip them with all that they need to live by Your Spirit and to gratify that which Your Spirit desires.  I ask that Your Spirit would give them power, love, and self-discipline in life.  May You teach them all things.  As they trust in You, may they keep in step with Your Spirit.  And I pray they would begin to see Your work in them, may they recognize good fruit in their life and give You the glory for it!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Loose Lips, Sink Ships: The Trouble with Gossip

If there is one type of person I desperately do NOT want to raise it is...

a gossiper,
a tale-bearer,
a whisperer,
a busybody,
a muckraker,
a scandalmonger.

Gossip is nearly second nature to our culture now, like breathing out and breathing in.  No matter where we go we can find ourselves hearing it, reading it, watching it, or smack dab in the middle of it.  And though we may know how it can devastate, we struggle to avoid it because our culture encourages, legitimizes, and glorifies it.  Plus, there is this disturbing part of us that finds delight and satisfaction in it.

But the Bible teaches that gossip is a sin.  One of the most enticing sins, in fact.  A deliciously juicy, crimson apple.  And we've all partaken of it because, frankly, it is so incredibly hard to resist indulging in. 

There is certainly nothing good that comes from gossip.
It is a reckless evil to all who say it, hear it, and to those of whom it is spoken about.

Below are six biblical truths about one who gossips:

ONE:  A gossiper ruins friendships.

"A gossip separates close friends."
Proverbs 16:28[b]

TWO:  A tale-bearer fuels a quarrel; stirring up more trouble.

"Without wood a fire goes out;
without a tale-bearer a quarrel dies down. 
As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
so is a quarrelsome person to kindling strife." 
Proverbs 26:20-21

THREE:  A whisperer cuts deep, wounding the heart.

"The words of a whisperer are like choice morsels;
they go down to the inmost parts."
Proverbs 26:22

FOUR:  A busybody cannot be trusted.

"A gossip betrays a confidence;
so avoid a man who talks too much." 
Proverbs 20:19

FIVEA muckraker is full of ungodliness.

"But avoid godless chatter,
because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly."
2 Timothy 2:16

SIX:  A scandalmonger gets himself into trouble.

"He who guards his mouth and tongue
keeps himself from trouble."
Proverbs 21:23

I don't want my children to poison relationships, be kindling to quarrels, nor to deeply hurt others?  
I don't want them to be untrustworthy, ungodly, nor troublesome individuals?

I trust you feel the same.

So what can we do?

ONE:  We can resist falling into gossip ourselves and set an example for our kids.

TWO:  We can teach our kids the six Biblical truths regarding the horrific consequences of gossip.

THREE:  Most importantly we can pray the words of Titus and Ephesians over them.

"Remind the people...
to slander no one,
to be peaceable and considerate,
and to show true humility toward all men."
Titus 3:2

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building others up
according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen."
Ephesians 4:29

Let's pray!

Oh LORD, I cry out to You today and ask that You would open my children's eyes and ears to the reckless evil of gossip.  I pray they would train their mouths so as to not let any unwholesome talk come out.  I pray they would train their ears to avoid gossip. 
I pray they would decide to slander no one, no matter how enticing it may be to do so.  I pray they would be peaceable and considerate with their mouths.  I pray they would speak words that would benefit others and build them up.  I pray they would show true humility to all men by resisting the temptation to sin through gossip.