Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Role of Other Believer's in Our Kids' Faith Journeys

Have the words and actions of another believer discouraged your faith?  Has the hypocrisy, lukewarm living, flippancy toward sin, selfish behaviors, or self-righteous attitudes of another believer in your life made you stumble, even question, your faith?

For the past few weeks I've been studying the book of Romans where I've been challenged by one particular verse in which Paul speaks to the extraordinary role believers should play in each other's faith journeys.

"I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong--that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith."
Romans 1:11-12

Thinking about this verse, I've begun to ask myself:

Do my believing friends and I mutually encourage each other's faith? 

The Greek word Charisma is translated to "spiritual gift" in this passage.  Charisma means a gift of grace and it is the instantaneous enablement of the Holy Spirit in the life of any believer to exercise a gift for the encouragement and strengthening of others.    

So what are these "gifts of grace" that believers have to give that will encourage and strengthen each other's faith?

To answer this question, I turned to my own life. 

Recently I received a letter in the mail from a cousin of mine.  In her own handwriting she took the time to encourage me to continue writing this blog.  Friends, I cannot even begin to tell you how encouraged I was to continue walking in obedience to the Lord where this blog is concerned.  Her heartfelt letter of affirmation was a gift of grace and together, through our words, she and I are encouraging each other's faith.

Grayden has a neat little Kindergarten friend from his class who loves Jesus.  He and Grayden have play dates every so often together after school.  Just the other day I was picking Grayden up from one of these play dates and the boy's mom tells me how Grayden and her son jammed to the Christian radio station the
whole time they were playing together.  She could hear them both singing along to the words together.  Their worship of Jesus together was a gift of grace, mutually encouraging each other's faith.

I find gifts of grace when I meet with other believers for prayer and bible study.  We encourage each other's faith with honest, heartfelt sharing of how God is working in our lives.

When I'm weary and discouraged in parenting, I have a few moms I can get together with who will speak truth, point me to Jesus, and love me.  I can be vulnerable and honest with them about my struggles and they listen with compassionate and wise ears.  Our friendship in parenting is a gift of grace.  Together we spur each other on in the faith.

So I believe these "gifts of grace" are those moments when the Holy Spirit enables us to imitate Jesus and point other believers to Him.  When we live out His teachings and interact with others in light of them, we will encourage them!    

As believers who have the Spirit of Christ in us, we all have the capability of imparting gifts of grace to other believers to strengthen and encourage them in the faith.  We don't have to be perfect, have all the answers, or look like we have it all together.  We just have to walk humbly with Jesus day in and day out.  Pray to Him.  Read His Word.  And allow His Spirit to sanctify us to do His will.

Even Paul humbly recognized that he needed to be mutually encouraged by the new converts in the Roman church.  No matter how long you've been a believer nor how knowledgeable you are about spiritual things, the Holy Spirit can use you to impart gifts of grace for the mutual encouragement of other believers.

And the Holy Spirit can use our kids as well. I'd like to take time today to pray first, that our kids would long for and find solid relationships with other believers as they grow up...relationships that specialize in mutual encouragement through gifts of grace.  And secondly, I'd like to pray that our kids continue to be sanctified by the Spirit and in tune to what gifts He's asking them to impart to others.

Dear Jesus,

I pray that You would provide solid Christian friendships for my children as they grow up.  May these friendships specialize in mutually encouraging each other's faith through gifts of grace.  Would you continue to sanctify my kids through the Spirit, making them more and more like You.  I pray they would learn to be in tune to the Spirit's call and guiding in their lives, especially in regards to how they can mutually encourage other believers in the faith.  Instead of discouraging other believers, may their living be full of grace toward others!


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Helping Our Children To Be Content and Thankful For Their Blessings

One of THE most annoying phrases that I hear from my children is, "It's not fair!"  I literally cringe inside when I hear those words out of their mouths because they are so blessed.  For the most part their lives have been very easy, their needs are always met, and they have so many privileges that other children their age don't have.  To complain about life not being fair just highlights their ignorance and ungrateful hearts.

We recently took the boys on vacation where we cruised the Caribbean.  If you've ever been on a cruise you know it can be an extravagant experience where food & entertainment are at your disposal.  The boys ate lavish meals, played putt-putt while sailing the ocean, were entertained by talented acrobats & dancers, snorkeled, jumped in the ocean waves, and received royal treatment (so to speak).  They had a blast...obviously. 

Upon our return though I've thought to myself, "Do Grayden and Cole have any idea how fortunate they are?"  Keith and I did our best during the vacation itself to remind the boys of how this isn't normal and how blessed they are to be having these experiences.  Regardless of our attempts, we know they didn't get it. 

Before having my kids I taught middle school in a school district where over 75% of the students were on free or reduced lunch.  I loved my job and I loved the families and children I worked for (and with).  Many of these families worked 2-3 jobs to make ends meet.  Many of my students went home to an empty house where they were responsible for making themselves dinner and doing their homework while their parents were out working their tails off.  During a social studies lesson I polled over 90 of my students and a mere 5% of them had ever ridden on an airplane.  Most of them had never traveled outside of Ohio.  Very few had ever seen the ocean.  I helped coach a 7th grade girls basketball team and most of the girls had never played on an organized sports team little leagues or lessons as a young kid.

The difference between the experiences my young children have had compared to many of the older middle school kids I taught is pretty substantial.  When I think about all the extra-curricular activities my children are blessed to do like soccer, swim lessons, piano, and basketball I clearly see the difference.  And after sailing on a 7 day cruise with them, it's plain as day to me.  My kids have been given so much.

I can't expect my children to see their abundance of blessing on their own for up to this point this is all they've ever known.  Thus, I know it's Keith and my responsibility to make our children aware of their blessings and privileges as well as compassionate and generous toward those who are less fortunate.  It's also our responsibility to not give them everything they want, when they want it. 

To be honest, I'm a little overwhelmed by these responsibilities.  They demand purposeful conversations and a firm commitment to not spoiling my kids.  Furthermore, we must be deliberate about creating opportunities for them to help and care for others. 

I don't want to just get angry and flabbergasted with them for being selfish and ungrateful, especially when I hear the phrase "It's not fair."  And I don't want to give in to the popular parenting strategy which involves giving kids everything they want because that will give them an edge in this world. 

So I have recently begun to regularly ask the Lord how I can keep my children grounded and thankful, as well as how I can make them compassionate and generous toward others who might not have as much. 

As I seek the Lord's wisdom in rearing children with grateful, contented, and compassion hearts I find guidance in His Word. 

Hebrews 13:16 says,

"And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."

Proverbs 14:31 teaches,

"He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God."

Friends, it is easy for me to forget to do good and to share.  It's even easier to turn my eye from the oppressed.  But God is pleased and honored when we care for those in need & when we give of ourselves and our possessions.  We must lead by example.

I want to teach my children these Biblical principles.  And my prayer is that as they care for those in need, they will learn to be content, as well as become full of thankfulness toward all the experiences and blessings in their own lives. 

I trust that many of you have these same desires and hopes for your children.  Perhaps many of you, like me, desperately need God's wisdom with these responsibilities.  So will you join me and let's pray for our children.

Help me to do good and to share with others.  Present opportunities for me to be kind to those in need.  As I long for my kids to have contented and compassionate hearts, I know that You call me to lead by example.  May my words and deeds toward others be pleasing and honoring to You.

And for my kids, Lord would You open their eyes to their own blessings and privileges.  I pray they would grow up grounded and grateful for all the blessings and privileges You've bestowed upon them.  Give me clarity as to how I can create opportunities for them that will teach their hearts to be content and thankful.  Guide my parenting so that I don't spoil my children.   

And through Your Spirit grow in them the gift of generosity.  Stir in their hearts a love for all Your children and a desire to please You by doing good and sharing with others. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

We Must Never Forget How He Rescued Us

As Easter draws near, I've been longing for a fresh reminder of what Jesus did for me on the cross.  Cause you see, sometimes I forget.  Sometimes I lose sight of why His death mattered for me.  Sometimes self-righteousness creeps into my heart and pride takes root.  I become self-sufficient.  Jesus dying on the cross is lessened to a good Sunday School story, rather than an epic rescuing of my soul. 

Were I to sit at the cross and watch and see with my own eyes the sacrifice Christ made for me, would I still forget?

Were I magically able to see what my life would be like had I never received His deep love for me and chosen to live my life for Him, would I still forget?

I've been studying the book of Hosea over the past few months.  It's a book highlighting the adulterous and waywardness of Northern Israel.  God's people forget Him.  They forget His love, His care, His protection, and His rescuing of them time and time again.  And God's jealous love for His people results in a justice of exile, but ends with a wondrous act of redemption. 

So why do I, like the Israelites, forget God?

Hosea 13:4-6 guides me to an answer:

"But I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.  You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me.  I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat.  When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me."

We forget God when we fail to acknowledge that our satisfaction comes from Him and not our own doing.  I see this all the time.  God satisfies a need and overtime we begin to think we had something to do with it.  Pride swells within us as we take credit and thus, we forget He who was the true source of our satisfaction.

I have a very real and recent example of this from my own life.  To be honest I'd rather not air my dirty laundry before all of you, but the depravity of sin must not be hidden or silenced.  Part of remembering Jesus and the work He did on the cross is taking a good long look at our personal sin.  When we see how truly wretched we are without His saving grace, we simply cannot forget Him.

Sometimes I am guilty of taking credit in parenting.  When my children succeed and I feel satisfaction, pride can begin to swell up within me.  I forget I don't make them holy.  This past weekend Grayden, Cole, and I went to an Easter Egg hunt hosted by one of the parents of a student in Grayden's Kindergarten class.  We have become good friends with this family who happen to be believers.  Attending the hunt as well was another student in Grayden's class who let's just say hasn't made a great impression on me during other encounters I've had with him.  During the hunt, I watched this young man throw a fit about something that was pretty silly and ridiculous.  And I thought in my mind, "This kid is so dramatic.  My kids have never acted so ridiculous.  His mother must baby him."

As if thinking these self-righteous, haughty, and disgustingly snobby things wasn't enough, I then had to go and speak them.  I very haughtily and snobbishly said to the mom who hosted the party, "So, is Ryan (I'll call him) always so dramatic?"

And then comes the punch to my gut...

"He can be," she says, "but he's been having a hard time lately.  His brother is in the hospital and is really sick.  Mom and dad are away at the hospital a lot.  He's just having a hard time with it all."

Friends, I can honestly say I can't think of many times when I felt as ashamed as I did in that moment.  And talk about seeing the depravity of my own sin.  It had been a little while since my own kids had been dramatic in public so I started to think I was the sh*t as a mom (pardon my derogatory term, but it is the only word that appropriately portrays my pride).  Just like the Israelites, I forgot that Jesus is the source of success in my children's lives.  He meets their needs.  He's the reason for their growth.  Pride swelled within me and I thought my kids were better than that young man.  I thought I was a better parent than his parents.  I never considered for one minute that perhaps his behavior was warranted.  There was no grace in my heart at all.

I spent the next few days disgusted with myself.  My sin was ugly and foul.  I was moved to emotion on several occasions while talking with God about my actions.  I relentlessly sought forgiveness.  I found myself praying, "Lord, how could I so easily forget You?"  And then while in the Word I read those verses in Hosea and I knew.  God is continually satisfying my needs in parenting, but sometimes I creep in and take credit.  And when I take the credit and steal the glory, I forget Him.

So as Easter approaches I have been freshly reminded of what Jesus did for me on the cross.  He took my sin and all its depravity and pardoned me, making me pure and whole before Him. 

I had a dream years ago (I think I might have shared it with you before) in which I was standing with Jesus in a square room.  Written upon the walls was every sin I had ever committed.  I felt deep shame standing alongside of Him as He read me each sin.  But in His hand he held a red pen and He began to cross out every sin.  With each stroke of the red pen, His blood was covering my sins. 

I can now add to that wall "self-righteous, haughty parent."  And like the other sins upon that wall, His work on the cross marks a big red X over this most recent one.  Yet another chapter in His epic rescuing of my soul.

Today let's pray that our children clearly see how Jesus can rescue their souls.  And then let's pray that as He satisfies their needs they won't allow pride to swell up, causing them to forget Him.

The cross is ever before me, changing me from the inside out.  Help me to always see the depravity of my own sin and my constant need of You.  May I never take credit for righteousness, or anything else.  May I remember You always. 
And I pray this for my children as well.  I pray they will see their sin in all its depravity.  I pray they will come to the cross and want You to rescue their souls.  I pray they would always remember that You alone satisfy their needs.  May they never allow pride to swell up causing them to forget You. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Life Lessons On The Road With Grandma

It's been a little while since my last post.  I took a hiatus while on vacation with my family.  And just recently, I returned from a 2 day road trip with my 86 year old grandmother.  Over the course of the past few weeks, I've filed away a few topics I'd like to write about this month.  God always inspires prayer while I travel.

Today's topic was inspired by the road trip I took with my grandma.

My grandmother was born in 1928.  She has 86 years to her name.  It was a tremendous privilege to spend three days alone with her.  But I'll be honest, there were moments I struggled.  I struggled to slow down to her pace because I like to go-go-go.  I struggled to understand and adhere to her way of doing things because I think I know best.  And I struggled to simply enjoy and embrace our time together because I am always looking to what's next.

But God threw me a the form of a severe sore throat.  It might sound strange to you that I'm crediting my sickness as God's help, but God knew just what needed to be done to help me get the most out of my time with such a remarkable woman.
Instead of being able to use the running clothes I had packed, I sat with my grandma the night before we left in her mobile home and played cards with 2 of her friends.  Man, I wish I could have recorded my three hours with them.  It was a riot!  And just awesome.

Instead of being able to voice my opinions and talk about myself, my weak vocal cords (and barely there voice) helped me to submit to her needs and opinions AND forced me to shut-up and simply listen to her.  Had I been at full strength in the communication department I would have missed dozens of stories from my grandmother's life.  Stories that imparted wisdom and hope into my own life.

And instead of looking ahead to what was next in life and planning my to-do's, my tired self slowed down and took things one step at a time; or as in our case, one mile at a time.  And it was in those still, precious moments that I saw greatness in the woman sitting next to me.  I forgot about my own life and took the opportunity to learn from hers. 

Thus, I can do nothing but rejoice and thank God for my sore throat.  I wish I could always trust His hand at work in those life speed bumps.

But the truth is that...

Sometimes I forget that God knows what I need before I even ask Him (Matthew 6:8).

Sometimes I take for granted that He knows my heart and my thoughts & will sift and refine all their offensive ways & will lead me in the way everlasting, keeping me true (Psalm 139:23-24).

And sometimes I fail to stand in awe of how He cares for me and doesn't let me miss His good and perfect purposes (Romans 8:28).

Our children will have speed bumps along the way, or perhaps they will have a landslide of large rocks and boulders.  Regardless, my prayer is that they will let God fulfill His good and perfect purposes in and through whatever road blocks they face.  Because as I've learned over and over again, letting Him drive (and be in control) always gets me to a better place.

Let's pray!

Jesus,  You know what my children need before they ask You (and even if they never do).  You know their hearts and their thoughts, thus You know how to sift and refine them in ways that lead them to Your everlasting peace & hope.  And You care for them so much that You fulfill every good purpose for their life.  And so I pray that you would help both me and them to trust You in the driver's seat of their life.  I pray they would let You use every speed bump in their life to lead them to those better places they could never find on their own.